CRITICIZING ADMINISTRATION REPORT ON PLO COMPLIANCE WITH ITS DECEMBER 1988, COMMITMENTS -- (BY BARRY RUBIN) (Extension of Remarks - March 22, 1990)
HON. MEL LEVINE
in the House of Representatives
THURSDAY, MARCH 22, 1990
- Mr. LEVINE of California. Mr. Speaker, the Bush administration recently submitted the first in a series of quarterly reports concerning PLO compliance with the commitments it made in December 1988. Those commitments--accepting U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338, recognizing Israel's right to exist, and renouncing terror--formed the basis of the decision to begin a dialog with the PLO.
- Many of my colleagues and I were skeptical, but nonetheless supported the start of that dialog. We hoped that, indeed, the PLO had finally changed both its tune and its stripes as well; in other words, that its deeds would match its sweet-sounding words.
- Regrettably, the record many months later is--to be charitable--decidedly mixed. And that is why the administration report is such a serious disappointment, leading some even to call it a `whitewash.'
- It seems clear that the administration selectively reviewed the evidence in order to support a preordained conclusion: That the PLO has lived up to its commitment to renounce terror. I and others arrive at a different outcome.
- The report relies on what it perceives as Arafat's inability to control all elements within the PLO umbrella. Particularly as relates to attempted infiltration into Israel. Yet, the leaders of several groups responsible for these attempts occupy prominent positions in the PLO hierarchy; indeed, the head of the PLO delegation talking in Tunis ranks second in one of those groups.
- Furthermore, the report disingenuously argues we do not know Israel is the destination for the infiltrators. But when so many of the teams are caught with grenades, rockets, wire cutters, and maps of kibbutzim, it is a fair assumption they are not out for a Sunday stroll in South Lebanon. Must innocent Israeli blood be shed before the administration admits what is obvious to everyone else?
- In addition, Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs, John Kelly, in recent testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Middle East Subcommittee, conceded that Fatah operatives were likely involved in a terrorist attack
- in the Negev in December. This seems an obvious repudiation of the PLO's commitment. Yet, Mr. Kelly's clear implication was that--as long as Arafat did not himself pull any trigger--it would have no bearing on U.S. policy toward the PLO. The administration practically invites terrorism by creating a loophole large enough to drive a bomb-laden truck through.
- Who is responsible for attacks committed by Arafat's own troops if not Arafat himself? And what is the point of talking to him if he cannot control even those people loyal to him? Will this administration simply look the other way under any set of circumstances? The reports suggests that this is so, doesn't even discuss the Negev incident, refuses to consider credible Israeli claims of Fatah terror inside the territories, and ignores evidence of Arafat's endorsement of Palestinian fratricide, which has led to approximately 200 Palestinian deaths to date.
- How does such an attitude help us to influence PLO policy if we are prepared to overlook such counterproductive behavior? Whatever happened to diplomatic leverage? The administration is certainly not shy about exercising it with Israel.
- Not surprisingly, the PLO is taking advantage. Indeed, a recent Washington Post story indicates that the PLO leadership views administration statements and actions as a sign that the United States will `deliver talks,' that is, Israel. It seems as if the PLO believes it no longer has any obligation--or incentive--to fulfill its stated commitments of December 1988, particularly on terrorism. And why should it, when the administration is prepared to downplay or even ignore the obvious?
- Finally, the PLO statements that the report reviews do help support its conclusion. But these statements were chosen selectively. The report ignores many more, for example, which show a continuing commitment to the `two-stage' solution. Indeed, I would argue that PLO statements about their willingness to live in peace with Israel and refrain from terrorist attacks remain ambiguous at best.
- Mr. Speaker, what disturbs me most about this report and the policy underlying is its impact on the peace process.
- By failing to condemn terror, by refusing to hold the PLO leadership--including Arafat--accountable, and by selectively choosing which evidence to consider, the administration has demonstrated its desire to continue the dialog at all costs. I suppose that is its prerogative, and I am not
- calling for an end to the dialog. But the administration must understand that the inevitable consequence of its policy is to encourage terror, and to make real peace that much harder to achieve.
- Regarding the former, the PLO should no longer feel any constraints, as I have shown. And the administration essentially makes a mockery of U.S. antiterrorism policy. No country will take our efforts seriously when it seems we will go to any lengths to overlook terrorist activity that gets in the way of some other policy objective.
- Indeed, this PLO report made it easier for Hungary to terminate its flights of Soviet Jews to Israel for fear of terrorist attack. Why should these countries stand up to terror if the United States refuses to do so?
- Regarding the latter, the value of United States assurances to Israel further down the road to peace has been drastically diminished, since Israel believes the United States has already abandoned its commitment to hold the PLO accountable on terrorism. And this makes it less, not more, likely that Israel will feel comfortable taking the necessary risks for peace, and that Israelis--who rightly are skeptical of the PLO's true intentions--will believe the PLO has changed in any fundamental fashion.
- Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to place in the Record at this point two items pertaining to this topic. The first, an op-ed from today's Los Angeles Times, is by Barry Rubin, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a highly respected analyst of Middle East issues. Entitled `How Low Will We Stoop for Arafat?', the piece is a devastating critique of the administration's PLO report. Indeed, Mr. Rubin begins by calling it, `[T]he most intellectually devious government document since the Vietnam war era.'
[FROM THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, MAR. 22, 1990]
(BY BARRY RUBIN)
- The second item is an excerpt from an article written by the PLO's Assad Abdel Rahman in the PLO monthly, Shu'un Falestiniya. Dated February 22, 1990, the article states that PLO moderation is merely a tactical shift in order to achieve its long-held goal: A two-stage process which will see the `disintegration of the Zionist-Jewish framework of the State of Israel,' and the establishment of a Palestinian state on `part of the homeland' as prelude to establishing it `on all of the homeland.' Such a candid statement hardly builds the confidence essential to peace in the region.
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.
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.