WASHINGTON, July 26 (JTA) — The State Department is close to publicizing rewards for information leading to the arrests of Palestinians who kill American citizens, according to the U.S. Middle East envoy.
William Burns, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said the Bush administration has heard complaints from lawmakers and the American Jewish community that Palestinians are the only ones left off a Web site that offers rewards for information on people who have killed American citizens throughout the world.
“The administration shares the concern of many members of Congress and many Americans about the importance of finding a way to address this on the Web site, and we are going to do that,” Burns said Thursday to the House International Relations Committee’s Middle East panel. “We’re looking now at exactly how we do that on the Web site, but we will move ahead and find a way of advertising on the Web site.”
He noted that rewards are available for any information that leads to an arrest, whether the accused is listed on the Web site or not.
State Department policy has been to not offer rewards for the death of Americans killed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip because it “would be detrimental to ongoing efforts to capture” suspects “and could increase the danger to American citizens and facilities overseas,” according to a department report released in March.
But a State Department spokesman said the policy has led to a “misconception” that the United States is uninterested in the capture of these terrorists.
“We are looking for a way to address the misconception,” the spokesman said.
Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, said he was pleased by the decision.
“It’s the most explicit and direct answer we’ve ever gotten to the question of rewards,” said Klein, who has been the driving force on the issue in the Jewish community. “It’s the first time there has been a clear and public declaration that rewards will soon be offered for the capture of the several dozen Palestinian Arabs who have murdered 18 American citizens.”
Klein said it is still unclear whether the administration is going to offer rewards or just post the information on the Web site.
In his first appearance before the House panel, Burns said he has seen some effort by Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to rein in violence and incitement, but that a lot more needs to be done.
“It is absolutely clear that more needs to be done, and the focus of our efforts has been to press the importance of, particularly, the Palestinian side doing more to rein in violence,” Burns said.
Burns acknowledged that members of the Tanzim — the militia of Arafat’s Fatah Party — and Force 17, his presidential guard, are involved in the violence against Israel.
“It’s a question that’s not only a serious concern, but it’s also something that we’re very seriously reviewing as we look at the possible designation of particular groups as foreign terrorist organizations,” he said.
Burns was asked repeatedly whether U.S. funds sent to the West Bank and Gaza go to the Palestinian Authority. He said they do not, but are dispersed by the U.S. Agency for International Development directly to humanitarian projects.
Noting the poor economic conditions in the Palestinian areas, Burns said those funds were “appreciated” by the Palestinians.
Burns also downplayed the possible role of third-party monitors in the Middle East, as were recommended last weekend by officials from G-8 nations meeting in Italy.
Burns said any such force would be not of a military nature but rather a “more modest mechanism which would help the two parties to implement their commitments” made in agreements earlier this year.