WASHINGTON (Sep. 4)
Condemnation of the Palestinian Authority came swiftly from Capitol Hill — only moments after President Clinton called on the Palestinians to do “everything possible” to stop terrorists.
In the wake of the triple suicide bombing in Israel on Thursday, four U.S. senators squarely laid the blame for the attack on Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.
“We have an obligation to stand up and say, `Mr. Arafat we hold you responsible,’ ” Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor.
D’Amato stood in front of a poster-sized replica of a New York Times photo of Arafat kissing a Hamas leader at a Palestinian unity gathering last month.
“Mr. Arafat coddles terrorists and provides them sanctuary,” he said.
Three Democratic members also criticized the Palestinians during a half-hour of speeches.
Clinton was equally firm, but more diplomatic.
“Everything possible must be done to stop” the terrorists, Clinton told reporters from his vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard.
In a thinly veiled criticism of Arafat, Clinton said the Palestinian Authority must “do all it can to create an environment that leaves no doubt that terror will not be tolerated.”
“Hamas and the other terrorists, they thrive on anger and uncertainty and being able to inject their murderers into this situation,” Clinton said.
After a conference call with top aides and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is in Czechoslovakia, Clinton decided that the secretary’s planned trip to the Middle East next week should go ahead as scheduled.
Albright is scheduled to meet with Israeli officials on Wednesday.
In a statement released from the U.S. Embassy in Prague, Albright said, “Fighting terror is a 24-hour-a-day job. Security cooperation must be accompanied by unilateral Palestinian action to pre-empt terror, destroy infrastructure as well as to create a political climate where there is no tolerance for terror.”
After speaking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Albright said, “We stand with the people of Israel in the fight against terror and in their efforts to combat those who seek to destroy the hope for peace. Clearly, peace without security is not achievable.”
“The peace process can only move forward in a secure environment,” Clinton said. “This is a message that Secretary Albright will emphasize when she travels to the region next week.”
While many members of Congress praised Clinton’s decision, at least one senator questioned it.
“I’m not sure that going to the Middle East at this time sends the signal that we resist terrorism,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
“This peace can be brokered elsewhere than on Israeli soil.”
Feinstein also questioned the future of the U.S. foreign aid program to the Palestinians, which has sent about $100 million a year since the peace accords were signed in 1993.
Feinstein, who until this week had been a vocal advocate of U.S. aid to the Palestinians said, “The aid should cease.”
She also referred to the fact that the Palestinian office in Washington is symbolically closed because legislation that allows the Palestinians to have official representation in the United States expired in August.
The Palestinians are still operating there, however.
“The Palestinian office in Washington is closed and I believe that it should remain closed,” said the senator, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) also spoke out on the bombing and questioned future aid to the Palestinians.
On the other side of the Capitol, members of the House were debating the foreign aid bill when news of the attack broke.
Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has asked his colleagues to sign a letter to Albright urging her to focus exclusively on terrorism and security during her upcoming trip. He wants Albright to return from Israel “with a plan signed by Yasser Arafat to eliminate the terrorism of Hamas.”
“It’s time to get results, not just promises,” he said at an afternoon news conference.
Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, expressed the sentiments of many members of Congress who issued statements Thursday when he questioned Arafat’s commitment to peace.
“The coincidence between Arafat’s public embrace of Hamas and this latest bombing raises a very disturbing question: Was that kiss yet another green light? Arafat’s words of concern and condolence following previous bombings now ring hollow in light of that embrace,” Gilman said.
“The time has come to ask the ultimate question of whether Arafat really wants a just and lasting peace with Israel or is merely paying lip service to this goal.”
The House overwhelmingly passed the foreign aid bill on Thursday afternoon.
The Senate passed a similar bill earlier this year.
Members of the House and Senate will now meet to hammer out differences in the versions. A vote on a final bill will likely be held before the end of the month.
The measure includes more than $3 billion in U.S. aid to Israel and $2.1 billion for Egypt. While the foreign aid bill has never specifically earmarked aid for the Palestinians, about $100 million a year goes to the Palestinians through various programs.
Likewise this year, Clinton plans to provide undesignated aid to the Palestinians from the larger foreign aid budget.
The organized Jewish world also weighed in with harsh words for Arafat, saying he could no longer get away with giving lip service to the fight against terrorism, but must act forcefully and shut down the terrorists’ infrastructure.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations released a statement saying that, “Chairman Yasir Arafat must chose the partner he wants for peace. It is either Israel or Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”
American Jewish Congress leaders said in a statement, “Mere condemnation has no meaning” and called on the Palestinian Authority “to actively, publicly and unequivocally dissociate themselves from all terrorist organizations.”
B’nai B’rith went as far as urging the U.S. government to stop all contact with the Palestinian Authority until Israel is assured of its security.