WASHINGTON (Sep. 13)
The State Department determined that elements of the PLO were involved in acts of violence against Israel during the past year, and that Palestinian leaders did not attempt to prevent the attacks.
However, the department did not find conclusive evidence that the leaders were involved in planning or approving violence toward Israelis.
The information is contained in the semiannual PLO Commitments Compliance Report, released to Congress on Wednesday.
The report examined the period from Dec. 16, 2000 to June 15, 2001. It found that the Tanzim — the militia of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement — and Arafat’s elite presidential guard, Force 17, were involved in terror.
It also shows that Arafat and other senior Palestinian officials made “no serious or sustained efforts” to prevent the acts “through clear instructions or to assume responsibility over their compliance” until after the suicide bombing of a Tel Aviv disco June 1.
“It is clear that Chairman Arafat and Palestinian leadership can and must do more to end violence,” a State Department official said. “Without such an effort, it will be impossible to move forward with implementation” of recommendations made by an international commission led by former Sen. George Mitchell.
A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Mark Regev, said he sees a direct link between Arafat and the violence in the region, saying Arafat controls the security infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and has ultimate authority over the Tanzim militias.
“We believe that Chairman Arafat has strategic control over the terror,” Regev said. “He can act when he chooses to do so to end the terrorism.”
The previous report — which covered the first months of the Israeli-Palestinian violence that began last September — also did not directly link Arafat to the violence, but did not specifically criticize the senior Palestinian leadership’s permissive attitude toward terror.
In the past, the report has been used by lawmakers and American Jewish groups to urge the Bush administration to downgrade America’s relationship with the Palestinian Authority.
Specifically, Jewish leaders want some of the Palestinian factions to be placed on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations, which comes out next month.
But a State Department official said Thursday that the report is not necessarily an indication that Palestinian groups will be added to the list.
“These are two distinct matters,” he said. “We are continuing to review the list of foreign terrorist organizations.”
Suggestions also include downgrading the status of the PLO’s office in Washington and not allowing Arafat and other Palestinian leaders to travel freely in the United States.
The official said congressional action forcing the president to take action against the PLO would be “counterproductive.”
While the report has received significant attention in the past, it is unclear how Tuesday’s terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon will affect the calls for action, given that Arafat is seen as part of the Arab bloc Bush believes he needs to court to launch an assault on terrorism.
The timing of the release, just a day after the most murderous terrorist attacks in America’s history, was coincidental, the State Department official said.
American Jewish groups were not immediately available for comment.