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Congress criticizes Palestinian ties

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WASHINGTON, April 5 (JTA) — As Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat ignores demands to restrain attacks on Israel, support is building in Congress to prevent Arafat from visiting Washington and to reassess America’s relationship with the Palestinian Authority.

A group of 87 senators and 209 congressional representatives have signed a letter to President Bush outlining policy options for the United States, including reconsidering aid to the Palestinian Authority and placing the organization on a list of foreign terrorist groups.

“While this reassessment is taking place, we do not believe Chairman Arafat should be invited to meet with high-level officials in Washington,” the letter said. “We also believe that you should reaffirm America’s opposition to a unilaterally-declared independent Palestinian state.”

In addition, the lawmakers want the administration to consider barring Palestinians believed to be involved in terrorist attacks from entering the United States and consider closing the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington.

Similar letters have circulated in Congress since the violence began six months ago, but Matt Gobush, Democratic spokesman for the House International Relations Committee, said this campaign is far wider in scope and in its level of support.

“This is a pretty clear signal,” Gobush said. “This letter is broad and deep in its implications.”

The letter comes a week after the State Department released a report accusing P.A. security forces of instigating and participating in anti-Israel violence.

“Responsibility for the recent breakdown of the peace process and outbreak of violence in the Middle East clearly lies with the Palestinians,” said Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the ranking minority member on the House International Relations Committee. “In violation of his commitments, Yasser Arafat has turned a blind eye as Palestinian terrorists have targeted innocent Israeli men, women and children for deadly ambushes and suicide attacks. And Palestinian security forces are increasingly joining the fray.”

The latest letter is a bipartisan effort. Both Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), the chair of the House International Relations committee, joined the campaign, as did House leaders on both sides of the aisle.

“Given the recent abysmal behavior of the Palestinian leadership, the president needs to reassess America’s relationship with the Palestinian authorities,” said Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.), the chair of the Middle East subcommittee. “This letter sends that message in no uncertain terms.”

The administration has not publicly announced whether it will invite Arafat to the White House and has declined to comment on other possible action against the Palestinians.

Secretary of State Colin Powell met with Arafat during his tour of the Middle East in February, and both Bush and Powell have spoken to him on the telephone.

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