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Jewish Leaders Call for Reassessment of Dialogue Between U.S. and PLO

June 1, 1990
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

American Jewish organizations, strongly supporting Israel’s contention that no further proof is needed of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s continuing terrorist nature, sought to persuade Washington on Thursday that the PLO is not a fit partner for a dialogue with the United States.

But while President Bush denounced as an “outrage” Wednesday’s attempted attacks by heavily armed seaborne terrorists on two Israeli beaches, the administration was unwilling to concede immediately that the PLO was in fact involved.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, who read the president’s statement at a news briefing Thursday, said the United States would have to complete its investigation of who is responsible before considering whether it should change its policy of talking to the PLO.

American Jewish leaders by contrast were unanimously behind Israel in holding the PLO entirely culpable.

They cited the attack on the Shavuot holiday to vindicate their criticism of a recent State Department report to Congress, which concluded that the PLO is essentially living up to its December 1988 renunciation of terrorism, which was a condition of the U.S.-PLO dialogue that began at that time.


The attack, in which four terrorists were killed and 12 captured but no Israelis hurt, was carried out by the Palestine Liberation Front, whose leader, Mohammed (Abul) Abbas, is a member of the 15-man PLO Executive Committee.

But PLO leader Yasir Arafat disavowed any link with the incident.

” We are not responsible, as the PLO, for this operation and we have no connection with it,” Arafat told a news conference in Baghdad on Thursday.

In Israel, Avi Pazner, adviser to acting Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, said of Arafat’s statement: “This is an outrageous lie. That’s one more lie of Arafat. It’s not his first nor his last.”

In Washington, the State Department said it was still in the ” investigative phase” of determining what impact the attack would have on the 16-month-old U.S. dialogue with the PLO.

Because of the seriousness of the issue, Secretary of State James Baker will personally be in charge of whatever action the United States decides to take, the State Department announced.

The statements issued by American Jewish leaders indicated they would be satisfied by only one course of action, although not all demanded instant abandonment of U.S. dialogue with the PLO.

Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, was sharply critical of the State Department’s report that Arafat has adhered to his promise to forgo terrorism. ” That whitewash stands exposed as a sham,” he said.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, demanded the ” immediate suspension” of the U.S.-PLO talks.

Sholom Comay, president of the American Jewish Committee, said the beach attack was “only the latest in a series of PLO-linked terrorist attacks against Israeli civilian targets.”

Albert Chernin, executive vice chairman of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, said. ” We are encouraged that the administration is taking a hard look at the continuing efficacy of its dialogue with the PLO in light of this latest episode.”

Foreign Minister Moshe Arens said on an Israel Radio interview that Israel has always maintained that the PLO, its various factions included, continues to engage in terror in spite of various comments made by Arafat here and there.

” But one cannot fool all of the people all of the time,” he added.

Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said ” if yesterday’s event didn’t teach us what the PLO is, it’ll be hard to persuade others.”

Abbas’ Palestine Liberation Front is notorious for masterminding the hijack of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985, during which a disabled American, Leon Klinghoffer, was murdered.

Abbas’ continued activity after Arafat renounced terrorism in 1988 has led to calls on the PLO chief to drum Abbas out of the PLO’s Executive Committee.

” Abul Abbas was elected, not by me but by the PNC. The PNC has to decide on Abul Abbas, not me. It is a matter of our democracy,” he said.

At Thursday’s news conference in Washington, following the first summit session between President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Fitzwater said ” the president commends the action of the Israel Defense Force” in stopping the attack.

Tutwiler said Wednesday that if the PLO is found responsible for the attack, ” we would view this as a very serious matter.” She added that the administration wants ” to get all the facts. We will not rule anything in or out.”

The first step toward getting the facts was a meeting Thursday with the PLO by Robert Pelletreau, the U.S. Ambassador in Tunisia, who has conducted all the previous dialogue with the PLO.

(JTA correspondents David Friedman in Washington and David Landau in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)

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