Jewish Journal


March 15, 2001

Congressional Concern

'There's going to be a tougher line.'


Members of Congress are urging the Bush administration to review its diplomatic treatment of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in light of the violent uprising against Israel.

Pro-Israel lobbying groups and lawmakers want a review of the current diplomatic privileges the Palestinian Authority and the PLO receive, including freedom of travel to the United States and a consulate in Washington.

Some lawmakers believe that if the violence continues, the PLO or Arafat could be again placed on the State Department's lists of terrorists. They were taken off the list in 1993.

The State Department is "not aware" of congressional efforts to review the Palestinians' status, a department spokesman said, but the subject was a possibility when Jewish leaders were scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell on Wednesday.

A spokesman from the PLO's Washington office was unavailable for comment.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to President Bush on Monday, asking him not to invite Arafat to the White House until Palestinian violence against Israel ends. He also said the White House and Congress need to reassess commitments made to the Palestinians after Arafat signed the Oslo peace accords with Israel in 1993.

"I believe we have overlooked many transgressions on the part of the Palestinians in trying to keep the embers of the peace process burning," Weiner said. "There's going to be a lot tougher line taken by Congress and, hopefully, the administration."

Several bills are circulating in the House of Representatives that would cut off non-humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territories and downgrade the PLO's Washington office from an "intersector" office -- which has no formal ambassador but carries out most diplomatic tasks -- to a mere information office.

Some left-wing groups appear not to agree with the proposed strategy, however. The Bush administration should think "long and hard" about how cutting off diplomatic ties would affect America's ability to influence the situation on the ground, said Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now.

"It's in the United States' best interest to maintain a healthy line of communication with the Palestinians," Roth said. "The current structure of that relationship diplomatically allows us to do that."

The State Department will soon release its semiannual report on PLO compliance with its commitments to the United States. Under the Palestine Liberation Organization Commitments Compliance Act, Palestinian actions from June 16, 2000 to Dec. 15, 2000 will be reviewed, and some think the report may spur changes in Washington's treatment of the Palestinians.

Jewish leaders want the Bush administration to stop letting the Palestinians "have it both ways."

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) is planning to introduce legislation that would scale the PLO's Washington office back to an information office, removing a large portion of its diplomatic role.

In addition to the letter he sent to Bush, Weiner also introduced legislation that would cut off non-humanitarian aid sent to the Palestinian Authority until Arafat clearly condemns attacks on Israel.

"The Palestinians have effectively walked away from the bargaining table," Weiner said. "There's no reason the American taxpayer should stay there holding the bag."

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