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US Congress Condemns Arafat - 2002-06-06

Enraged by the latest Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel, members of Congress have once again been discussing the potential for a change in leadership of the Palestinian authority.

The special hearing of the House Armed Services committee took place against the backdrop of the suicide bombing that left 17 Israelis dead.

Although the Palestinian authority has condemned the bombing, U.S. lawmakers pointed to the incident as proof Mr. Arafat has lost all credibility as a participant in the peace process. Here is Democratic Congressman Jim Turner of Texas. "On Tuesday, we know Chairman Arafat took a step toward a long promised reform of the Palestinian Authority by announcing reorganization of the security forces so as to prevent violence and Israeli incursions into the West Bank and Gaza strip," he said. "Yet, the next morning we had a car bombing that claimed the lives of 17 people, once again casting continuing doubt on the ability of Chairman Arafat to guarantee security and move toward peace."

In the view of former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, Mr. Arafat failed the test of leadership beginning with the historic 1993 agreement with the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that led to creation of the Palestinian Authority. "The people of Palestine don't have a leadership in chairman Arafat that is willing to take action and prevent violence, and it is time that the [Bush] administration reaches that conclusion," he said.

Mr. Indyk calls Mr. Arafat's rejection of Israeli and U.S. offers in the Camp David negotiations of 2000 a massive miscalculation that, in his words, has only brought further misery to Palestinians and Israelis alike.

John Philips, of the conservative Heritage Foundation, points to Mr. Arafat's failure to gain control of the radical groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In Mr. Philip's view, as long as Mr. Arafat remains as head of the Palestinian authority, there is little chance of a genuine peace. "Arafat has had ample time to prove himself as a true partner for peace, and he has failed miserably to do so," he said. "Largely due to his cynical policies, Palestinians and Israelis are engulfed in more terrorism and violence today then they were before the beginning of the Oslo process in 1993. It should be clear that Yasser Arafat is part of the problem, not part of the solution for reaching a genuine Arab-Israeli peace."

Rachel Ehrenfeld, Director of the Center for the Study of Corruption and the Rule of Law, said documents captured during Israel's previous incursions in the West Bank contain "clear evidence of Palestinian Authority involvement in systematic, institutionalized, and ongoing financing of radical Palestinian groups".

She says the Bush administration needs to recognize that Palestinian rhetoric is part of a pattern. "The Bush administration and Congress need to recognize that the Palestinian leadership's verbal attacks on the United States are not just propaganda for internal consumption," she said. "There is ample evidence that they really mean what they say. We saw the same message after the terrible attacks on the U.S., and we continue to hear it today. Let us recognize that Arafat and his cadre are meeting the definition of terrorist, using President Bush's own definition."

Lawmakers heard no satisfactory specific answers to their questions about who, in Palestinian leadership circles, might emerge to lead the Palestinian Authority and influence radical groups to turn away from violence.

Thursday, the White House said exiling Mr. Arafat will not be a solution to the ongoing crisis. The State Department said Israel had sent new assurances that the Palestinian leader would not be harmed.