WASHINGTON (May. 1)
The State Department says Israeli accusations that Palestinian Authority security officials participated in shooting and bombing attacks against Israelis last fall have “some credibility.” But the annual Patterns of Global Terrorism report, released Monday, did not take a clear stance on whether the United States backed these claims — which drew some criticism from Jewish groups.
“By including that, we obviously indicate that it has some credibility,” said Edmund Hull, acting coordinator for counterterrorism. “It may be that we’re not able to address the question or resolve it, but we think it’s worthwhile to at least raise the issue.”
The report did not directly link the actions of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction or the Palestinian Authority to Arafat, the P.A.’s president.
Contrary to previous media reports, the State Department did not mention the Tanzim, the militia arm of Arafat’s Fatah faction, which Israel says has been behind many of the Palestinian attacks of the last seven months.
One Jewish official said the State Department, while using diplomatic terms, clearly is placing the onus on Arafat to stop the violence.
“This is a warning shot across Arafat’s bow,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It’s a clear signal that things could get much worse.”
The Zionist Organization of America, however, accused the State Department of trying to cover up “the overwhelming evidence” that factions of Arafat’s regime are involved in terrorism. For example, the ZOA noted in a press release, Fatah publicly claimed responsibility for firing mortars at an Israeli settlement this week and killing an Israeli in a drive-by shooting.
“This is a blatant attempt to appease Arafat, but it will encourage Arafat to engage in even more terrorism,” said Morton Klein, ZOA’s national president.
State Department officials noted, however, that the report covers events only through the end of 2000, before more evidence surfaced that P.A. organizations have been involved in the fighting.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he is concerned that Monday’s report does not explicitly confirm Israeli accusations, as did the PLO Commitments Compliance Report issued earlier this month.
Hoenlein said he is also troubled that Hull’s acknowledgment of the merit in the Israeli charges came in response to questions at a news conference and was not in the report itself.
“They don’t assert it in writing,” Hoenlein said. “Why doesn’t the document state the U.S. findings?”
The earlier report, while not fingering Arafat directly, concluded that the “P.A.’s security forces instigated and participated in anti-Israeli violence.”
The Bush administration has been extremely cautious in its wording when reprimanding the Palestinian Authority.
Department officials said the global terrorism report was not the right venue for drawing conclusions about Palestinian actions, saying that would more likely come when the department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization list is updated in October.
Hull refuted accusations that the report is unbalanced because it cites Israeli accusations, but not P.A. or PLO accusations that Israel has used excessive force against Palestinians or engaged in targeted killings of leading militants.
Hull said the Israeli actions have been broached elsewhere, but do not fall under the definition of global terrorism. The State Department criticized Israeli actions in its annual Human Rights Report released earlier this year, Hull noted.
Monday’s terror report noted an increase in the past year of violence by Palestinian extremist groups, including the Islamic Jihad and Hamas.
The United States said Israeli accusations that Iran supports Palestinian groups trying to disrupt the peace process are “well-founded.” The report calls Iran “the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2000.”
“What we’ve seen in the Middle East over the recent period is a continuing, very high involvement by Iran in promoting terrorism against the Middle East peace,” Hull said. “I believe it’s clear that Iran is encouraging these organizations to act individually and to act in concert.”
He later added, “We characterize that situation as grim.”
The report said Hamas issued numerous statements during the recent violence calling on Palestinians to fight Israel and avenge Palestinian casualties.
Elsewhere in the region, the report said the October bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen “was not driven” by the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“I think if you had not had the Al-Aksa intifada, you nevertheless may well have had the Cole,” Hull said, citing evidence that the attack was planned before Israeli-Palestinian violence began in late September.
Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged the assistance of Israel and other Middle Eastern countries — specifically Jordan and Egypt — in combating terrorism.
“Terrorism is a persistent disease,” Powell said. “And so the fight goes on.”