White House accuses Palestinians of violating commitment

Friday, December 6, 2002

JERUSALEM -- The Palestinian Authority has violated its commitment to work against violence and has thrown into question its acceptance of Israel, but President Bush will not impose sanctions as a result, according to a White House document obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday.

Also Thursday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon charged that al-Qaida has infiltrated Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, and a former Israeli negotiator said he helped Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat set up a multimillion-dollar slush fund by diverting official funds.

Early Friday, Israeli tanks backed by helicopters entered Bourrej refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, east of Gaza City, witnesses and Palestinian security officials said. Exchanges of fire took place between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen, but there were no immediate reports of injuries.

The White House document includes a cover memorandum, dated Nov. 29 and signed by Bush, waiving sanctions against the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington, "in the national security interest of the United States." The sanctions could have included downgrading or closing the office.

The 12-page report that follows alleges that the PLO and Palestinian Authority have violated key commitments made to the United States in the framework of the 1993 Palestinian-Israeli interim peace accords that led to allowing the PLO to open its office in the U.S. capital.

The report, in effect, blames the Palestinians for more than two years of violence, charging that the Palestinian Authority and the PLO have not taken steps to stop militants. That mirrors Israeli charges.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat told the AP that he had seen excerpts of the document. He called it "unfair and unacceptable."

The Palestinians blame Israel for fueling the violence. They also say Israeli military operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have decimated the Palestinian security forces and left them unable to crack down on militants.

The report's cover memo was made public in Washington on Monday, but the remainder of the report was not. The report was obtained by the AP in Jerusalem.

Though the Palestinians have not rescinded their recognition of Israel, the report claims that their "failure to take action against terror groups ... has called into question their commitment of recognizing Israel's right to exist in peace and security."

The report blamed the Palestinian leadership for a "failure to take action against, and in some cases the provision of support for terrorist groups and others engaged in violence."

The Palestinian Authority "has not taken sufficient steps to prevent violence by PA personnel," the report says.

It concludes that the Palestinian leadership has "not complied" with its promise of "renunciation of the use of terrorism and all other acts of violence" or its commitments to "prevent violations and discipline violators" and ensure the compliance of "all PLO elements and personnel."

The report says there is no conclusive evidence that militants carried out attacks with the specific approval of Palestinian authorities. But "it is clear that these armed elements were not disciplined."

The report noted that "some PA officials have publicly spoken against suicide bombings and other forms of violence."

Arafat has condemned suicide bomb attacks and other violence against Israeli civilians. However, echoing Israeli complaints, the U.S. report notes that Palestinian leaders "failed consistently to condemn attacks on Israeli settlers and soldiers in the occupied territories."

Many Palestinians consider settlers to be combatants, like Israeli soldiers, since they occupy land the Palestinians claim for their own state.

However, Bush concluded that it was not in U.S. interests to impose sanctions by downgrading or closing the PLO office in Washington, because the United States "must maintain contacts with all sides" while "encouraging a new Palestinian leadership and reform of Palestinian institutions."

The report is produced twice a year by the White House and transferred to the State Department, which brings it to the attention of Congress, under terms of maintaining the PLO office in Washington.

Also Thursday, the Israeli prime minister said al-Qaida members have infiltrated Gaza and south Lebanon and are targeting Israel.

"The information says that a small number entered the Gaza Strip. We know they are in Lebanon in close cooperation with Hezbollah. We know they are in the region," Sharon told a Tel Aviv news conference. "There's no doubt that Israel is a target for an attack."

An Internet Web site linked to al-Qaida said the terror group was behind twin attacks in Mombasa, Kenya last week in which three suicide bombers blew up a hotel where Israelis stay, killing 10 Kenyans, three Israelis and themselves, while other terrorists fired two missiles at an Israeli civilian airliner, but missed.

Meanwhile, an aide to an Israeli negotiator said he helped set up a Swiss bank account for a $300 million slush fund for Arafat. The aide, Ozrad Lev, said he made the disclosures out of a fit of conscience.

Lev said he and Yossi Ginossar, a businessman with a security background who was a special envoy in talks with Palestinians, helped open and manage the illegal fund, skimmed from official Palestinian Authority money.

Erekat called the allegations part of an Israeli "smear campaign" against the Palestinian leadership.

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