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White House Opposes Proposed Arafat Accountability Act - 2002-04-19

Two U.S. senators have introduced legislation that would impose sanctions on the Palestinian Authority if its president, Yasser Arafat, does not do more to end violence against Israelis.

Sponsors hope their legislation will press Mr. Arafat and his Palestinian Authority to halt suicide bombings and other violence, arrest suspected terrorists, and condemn acts of terrorism not only in English but in Arabic.

Senator Mitch McConnell is a Republican from Kentucky. "The United States Senate will not stand idly by while they talk peace in English and practice terror in Arabic," he said.

Democratic sponsor Dianne Feinstein of California also was sharply critical of Mr. Arafat. "I believe sincerely that this is not a leader who wants peace for his people. In fact I believe the suicide bombings have been precisely calculated to destroy any chance for peace," she said.

Under the bill, it would be up to President Bush to decide whether Mr. Arafat is living up to the commitment to end the violence. If Mr. Bush determines Mr. Arafat is not, he can designate the Palestinian Authority a terrorist organization.

The legislation would allow the president to impose any number of sanctions on Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian Authority.

They include denying visas to Mr. Arafat or other Palestinian Authority officials, downgrading Palestinian Authority representation in the United States, placing travel restrictions on the senior Palestinian Authority Representative at the United Nations, and confiscating assets of Mr. Arafat and his organization.

The Bush administration is opposed to the legislation, fearing it would undermine its efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians. Mr. McConnell argues otherwise. "The Arafat Accountability Act will not frustrate or derail the important efforts of the administration to secure a political solution to the ongoing strife," he said. "Rather, it places critical incentives to ensure that Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority do not deliver a fatal blow to the prospects for peace."

Still, Mr. McConnell is sensitive to the administration's concerns, and has vowed not to allow the bill to come to a vote while administration officials are engaged in a peace mission.

Asked by reporters about Israel's continued military operation in the Palestinian territories despite Bush administration calls to end it, Senators Feinstein and McConnell defended the Israeli action saying it is a necessary response to the suicide bombings.

In the House of Representatives, Republican Congressman Tom Delay of Texas and Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos of California are drafting a resolution criticizing the Palestinians for the suicide bombings and expressing support for Israel.