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in the House of Representatives

THURSDAY, MAY 24, 1990

I am pleased to be here today to discuss the status of the U.S.-PLO dialog, including issues related to PLO compliance with commitments it undertook in December 1988. In this opening statement, I would like to explain what the U.S.-PLO dialog is: just what transpired in 1988 that led to the U.S. decision to open a substantive dialog with the PLO; what commitments the PLO undertook at that time; what expectations the U.S. had regarding the dialog and PLO performance; how the dialog has progressed; and what has been the PLO's performance of the commitments.

U.S. policy toward the PLO over the years was shaped in large measure by an undertaking entered into by the U.S. at Israel's request in 1975. At that time, as part of the package of arrangements believed necessary to conclude a second disengagement agreement between Israel and Egypt, Israel asked that the U.S. not recognize or negotiate with the PLO until it had met two conditions, namely recognition of Israel's right to exist and acceptance of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Subsequently, we added a third condition, namely renunciation by the PLO of terrorism.

During these years, successive American administrations maintained these conditions as policy, and the U.S. did not recognize or negotiate with the PLO. We also interpreted this policy more broadly than strictly required and refrained from engaging even in a dialog with the PLO. The only exception, as discussed with Congress at the time, related to discussions with PLO officials on the security of U.S. personnel.

Periodically, throughout these thirteen years, the State Department received messages from third parties signalling PLO interest in a dialog. Each time this occurred, our answer was the same: when the POL changed its policy and accepted the conditions, the U.S. would immediately respond.

In 1988, the U.S. received several such probes. Following the Palestine National Council meeting in Algiers in November 1988, the administration assessed that the PLO might be serious about changing its policy and accepting the conditions for dialogue. In discussing this possibility with a friendly government which was also in touch with the PLO, the administration repeated its longstanding conditions and repeated its readiness to open a dialogue immediately after the PLO accepted the conditions. There were no deals made and no agreements concluded between the U.S. and the friendly government or between the U.S. and the PLO.

On December 14, 1988, Yasir Arafat, speaking on behalf of the PLO Executive Committee, announced a change in PLO policy. Arafat accepted the conditions for dialogue, when he accepted:

`. . . the right of all parties concerned in the Middle East conflict to exist in peace and security, and as I have mentioned, including the state of Palestine, Israel and other neighbors, according to the resolution 242 and 338. . . . We totally and absolutely renounce all forms of terrorism, including individual, group and state terrorism.'

Following Arafat's statement, Secretary Shultz announced that the U.S. would open a substantive dialogue with the PLO. Secretary Shultz noted that this did not imply acceptance of an independent Palestinian state.

Two days later, the State Department issued (classified) guidance to our diplomatic posts, for our embassies to brief host governments on what had happened and why. Our objective was to encourage states friendly to the PLO to assist in preventing PLO backsliding on its commitments. In its guidance at the time, the Department also conveyed certain expectations regarding PLO behavior. These included an expectation that the PLO would condemn publicly any terrorist action anywhere, or--if terrorism were conducted by a PLO member--discipline those responsible for it, at least by expelling them from the organization.

In conveying these expectations, the administration noted that Arafat could not control all of the actions of all people who belong to organizations within the PLO. However, the administration did not want and has not wanted to give even a yellow light to anyone in the PLO to think that terrorism would be condoned or accepted by the United States. We wanted other countries to help convince the PLO to remain faithful to the commitments it had undertaken.

I want to stress the difference between the conditions the PLO had to meet for us to start the dialogue, and our expectations for PLO behavior once the dialogue was launched. Neither the previous administration nor this administration imposed new conditionality on the dialogue. Neither administration decided on some automatic trigger for ending the dialogue. Neither administration wanted to hand over to any individual or minority group within the PLO the sole capability of bringing about an end to the dialogue. Rather, we told the PLO that its behavior must improve and that it must try to ensure that the entire PLO act as one in adhering to the commitment to renounce terrorism and recognize Israel.

Mr. Chairman, the object of this brief review has been to make three points:

First, the basis for our agreeing to a substantive dialogue with the PLO was the PLO's changing its policy and accepting the three conditions.

Second, there were no deals or agreements reached directly or indirectly with the PLO at the time the dialogue began.

Third, there were no additional conditions imposed on the dialogue itself, but rather a set of expectations that we hoped to see emerge from the dialogue.

It was against this backdrop that the Bush administration established its policy objectives for the dialogue with the PLO. From the outset the administration made clear that we would conduct the dialogue on our basic terms, namely that we had no intention of diverting the peace process on to unproductive tracks--for example, by focusing now on an international conference--or having the dialogue become an end in itself or a means for the PLO to separate us from Israel. Rather, our intentions have been to ensure that the PLO remained committed to the undertakings of December 1988; to promote pragmatic and realistic thinking in the PLO with regard to the peace process; and to encourage the PLO and the Palestinian community at large to communicate clearly and unambiguously, in words and actions, their readiness for peace with Israel.

The dialogue has achieved its objectives thus far and benefitted important U.S. policy interests. Within six months of its initiation, the dialogue was focusing on the practical plan initiated in Israel for elections leading to negotiations. An international conference, preferred by the PLO, was no longer the focus of attention. Indeed, the agenda of the peace process and the substance of our dialogue with the PLO were shaped in Washington, not Tunis.

This had far-reaching and positive consequences for the peace process. As part of our efforts to bring about Israeli-Palestinian dialogue--an essential first step in realizing the Israeli peace initiative--we needed to overcome several serious procedural roadblocks, among them the issue of composing the Palestinian delegation. Our assessment was that putting together a credible delegation of Palestinians from the territories depended on getting the acquiesence of the PLO, which they see as their representatives. This assessment is shared by others in the region, including in Israel. The Jaffee Center at Tel Aviv University said that Israel would have `to address the recognized representatives of the Palestinians, that is either the PLO or West Bank and Gazan Palestinians who enjoy a mandate from the PLO.' We also continued to believe, as we had stated previously in the autonomy negotiations (1979-1982), that there would need to be some representatives from East Jerusalem; and we believed that a delegation would also need to reflect the interests of those outside the occupied territories as a symbolic gesture to the Palestinian diaspora and the unity of the Palestinian people. In all these matters, we also made clear that nothing agreed to at this stage of the peace process would be viewed by us as a precedent for subsequent stages.

Mr. Chairman, because we understood Israeli sensitivities in this regard, and because we wanted no surprises in our relationship with Israel, we laid our cards on the table to the Israeli government before it adopted its initiative. In April 1989, a month before the Israeli government adopted its peace initiative, Secretary Baker wrote to Foreign Minister Arens and said, inter alia, that it would be necessary to come up with a creative way to include the participation of some Palestinians no longer living in the West Bank and Gaza, and Palestinians from East Jerusalem.

So, it is clear that, from the beginning the Israeli government heard or views on composition of the Palestinian delegation. These issues remained under constant discussion between the U.S. and Israel up to the moment the Israeli government fell. It was equally clear that the PLO and Palestinians heard our views as well, for we made clear to the PLO in our dialogue in Tunis that the PLO would not be represented at the pre-election dialogue.

Mr. Chairman, periodically over the past year I have appeared before this Committee and explained our careful attempts to bring about the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. We came very close indeed, when the Israeli government fell, leading to what we all hope is a temporary hiatus on the road to the dialogue in Cairo. The point of this review, however, has been to make three points:

First, the U.S.-PLO dialogue has served our peace process objectives.

Second, there was nothing in the process of reaching the dialogue that should have been a surprise to our friends in Israel regarding composition of the Palestinian delegation. Let me reiterate clearly that our intention was not to bring the PLO into the Cairo dialogue through the back door.

Third, the U.S.-PLO dialogue helped us reach a point where the Israeli elections proposal was ready to be implemented. In other words, the U.S.-PLO dialogue has succeeded in bringing about PLO acquiesence to a process of dialogue between Israel and Palestinians from the territorires.

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The current question, then, is whether the PLO has measured up the the three commitments it undertook in December 1988, namely, to accept UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338; to recognize Israel's right to exist; and to renounce terrorism. In the three reports submitted by the administration in response to the PLO Commitments Compliance Act, the administration indicated its position tha the PLO had complied with its commitments. At the same time, the administration indicated clearly that there were serious deficiencies in two key areas: first, that some PLO individuals or groups said ambiguous or inconsistent things about terrorism and recognition of Israel; and second, that some groups undertook actions that Arafat should have condemned and disciplined. The fact that Arafat did not take action in either case is regrettable but it is not a sufficient reason to break off the dialogue.

Mr. Chairman, we recognize the complexity of dealing with these issues and the apparent inconsistencies between what Arafat says on behalf of the PLO as an organization, and what individuals or groups do that seem to violate the commitments. We have tried to call this the way to see it and to point out to the PLO in Tunis that it should exercise control over what its constituent factions do and say.

The administration scrutinizes carefully every allegation of involvement in terrorism by a PLO constituent group. We take up these questions directly with the PLO in Tunis. We seek an analyze all information provided to us by Israel or any other source. We listen carefully to what Israeli officials say, for example, the repeated statements by senior IDF officers to the effect that Fatah has not engaged in cross-border terrorism from Lebanon since 1988. We check our own intelligence carefully. We do not seek to cover up PLO behavior in the service of an over-riding policy objective. We maintain a high standard for assessing what has happened, a standard which often differs from that used by others.

The bottom line is this complex environment is that, while there have been questionable incidents noted in the report, we do not have conclusive evidence to indicate PLO violations of its commitments. And the Israeli government has not provided conclusive evidence to support its assertion that the PLO has continued to engage in terrorism against civilians. As a result of these factors, the administration has adopted the position of PLO compliance--a position which is constantly reviewed.

Mr. Chairman, I am not here today to delivery a brief on behalf of the PLO or to act as its apologist. Indeed, the PLO has much to do to bolster its stated peaceful intentions. In the final analysis, what matters most is not whether the PLO passes muster with the United States but how it is perceived by Israelis and Palestinians. I have come before this Committee to put into perspective a complex aspect of policy and analysis--namely, what the PLO committed to do; what the PLO has done; and what the U.S. has accomplished in its dialogue with the PLO. I hope this statement clarifies the record. I will be pleased to respond to the Committee's questions.