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in the House of Representatives




Mideast policy: The State Department has turned apologist for the PLO, distorting facts and ignoring evidence of terrorism.

The State Department's new report on the PLO and terrorism may be the most intellectually devious government document since the Vietnam war era. Equally regrettable, this paper is more likely to undermine than to fortify, U.S. policy.

Obviously, the Bush Administration chose to trim the facts to suit its thesis that the Palestine Liberation Organization has no involvement with terrorism. The serious miscalculation on which this decision is based-incarnated in the congressionally mandated report released on Monday--may come back to haunt Secretary of State James A. Baker III.

The United States had long demanded that the PLO stop using terrorism before we would negotiate with it. Yasser Arafat made such a promise in December 1988 and a U.S. PLO dialogue began. Thereafter the government stance has been that it must, at least publicly, deny that the PLO is responsible for terrorism--in effect; becoming an apologist for Arafat--or it would have to end the dialogue and abandon the hopeful Israel Palestinians peace process.

This is a foolish premise. It would have been untenable for a U.S. government to whitewash Soviet human-rights violations or other misdeeds as a condition for blinteral negotiations. Publicly criticizing such acts is basic diplomatic leverage.

The State Department is now in the situation of highlighting criticisms of Israel and rejecting any censure of the PLO. This refusal to be honest about PLO terrorism has seriously undermined Israel confidence in the United States and makes it harder for Israel to make the concessions required in the peace process.

The U.S. stance also makes the PLO believe that it can get away with continued `cross-border' attacks on Israel. If the United States does not acknowledge the depredations of the PLO now what would it do if a Palestinian state broke treaty commitments?

The State Department's report is full of misleading assertions and unfounded conclusions. To name just a few.

--The report stresses the absence of evidence that the PLO leadership or Arafat has officially approved any terrorist operation since December, 1988. In fact, the PLO as a body has never carried out terrorist acts; these have always been committed by the constituent groups' military organizations.

--The report suggests that three PLO member groups carrying out attacks are marginal, having little to do with the PLO command. In fact, they are the equal of Arafat's group, Fatah. The report does not mention that the leader of the PLO delegation in the dialogue is the No. 2 man in one of those groups.

--Although Fatah has greatly reduced its terrorism, the Bush Administration refused to examine Israeli evidence of specific attacks involving Fatah cadres. The report does not even acknowledge the existence of these claims.

--Particularly dangerous is the report's refusal to define attempted attacks across the Lebanon-Israel border as terrorist. The argument is that it is not clear what the targets were because Israel killed or captured the terrorists en route. The Administration willfully refused to examine captured evidence of intended targets or even public statements by the PLO member groups. Two Third World diplomats cynically told me that Israel should allow some PLO guerrillas to murder civilians in order to prove its claim.

--The State Department says that the PLO has lived up to the resolution of the September, 1988, Palestine National Council. In fact, the State Department rejected that document at the time as not having met minimum U.S. criteria for the PLO's recognizing Israel and rejecting terrorism. The real test is whether the PLO lives up to the more forthcoming promises made by Arafat in Geneva in December, 1988.

--The report does not tell members of Congress that the State Department's confidential talking points to the PLO demanded that it `publicly disassociate' itself `from terrorism by any Palestinian group operating anywhere.' If any PLO group or its members committed terrorism, `We expect that you not only condemn this action publicly but also discipline those responsible for it, at least by expelling them from the PLO.' Even Egypt's government has criticized Arafat's refusal to condemn such operations. To cite one example, Fatah's No. 2 man, Abu Iyad, defined an attack near the Israeli town of Dimona last year, in which three Israeli civilians were murdered, as a legitimate case of armed struggle.

The U.S.-PLO dialogue should continue. But the Israel-Palestinian peace process can only achieve an historic compromise--possibly including a national homeland for the Palestinians--if it is approached honestly. The U.S. government should not twist reality in order to defend the PLO's reputation.



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PLO veteran Dr. Assad Abdel Rahman, member of the PLO Central Council, formerly a member of the `Kawmeun al-Arab' party, in an article about the character of a political change in direction of the PLO (The PLO monthly `Shu'un Falestriniya', published in Beirut, 22.2.90) writers:

`The main axiom of the new peace strategy is that the Arab-Palestinian political change of direction--the proposal of peace derived from the Arab belief that peace, if it will bring about the establishment of sovereign Palestinian state--only it will be able, if even gradually, to cause the disintegration of the zionist-Jewish framework of the State of Israel. If this step is implemented, then this development will, more than any other external element, enable progress towards an era of expected Arab unrest--something which will ensure the destruction of the political framework of the Zionist enterprise and adjusting the Israelis to a stronger and wider developing oriential Arab society. Therefore the Arabs and the Palestinians holding this view see the events in the Palestinian arena since the convening of the PNC in November 1988, as strictly a wide-ranging tactical turnabout which will enable the PLO to advance to a strategic level by which it will transform itself from a national liberation movement into a national independence movement that both hopes and acts--principally against a background of pan-Arab or Islamic revolutionary development of a liberational character--to return to the formula of a new national liberation movement. Then the objective of the new movement will become transforming the partial victory of establishing a Palestinian state on part of its lands to complete victory of the Palestinian dream, in such a way that this Palestinian state which is established on part of the homeland will be established on all of the homeland.