Congressional Task Force: Arafat Not Suitable Head of Palestinian State

By John Rossomando | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

(Correction: Task Force report was issued Friday, Nov. 16)

( - A Congressional anti-terrorism task force claims the establishment of a Palestinian state with Yasser Arafat in charge could further undermine peace in the Middle East because of Arafat's alleged use of terrorism as a political tool.

A memo from the task force was released Friday, in anticipation of a speech by Secretary of State Colin Powell in which he endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state.

"The existing violence is the intended result of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's official and explicit policy of using violence against innocent civilians to achieve political goals," the Congressional Taskforce on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare stated in a memo.

"In fact, the manner in which Mr. Arafat has employed terrorism as a legitimate policy instrument suggests that his aims include not only the establishment of a Palestinian state, but also the complete elimination of Israel as the home of the Jewish people.

"At this moment, Mr. Arafat continues to operate on the theory that he can achieve through terrorism what he cannot achieve through negotiations," the report said.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), chairman of the task force, praised Powell's speech because of its emphasis on a stable and secure coexistence for Israel and a Palestinian state.

"It was very good and positive," said Cantor's Press Secretary Jenn Mascott. "One of the major criteria of having a Palestinian state would be a Palestinian state coexisting with the State of Israel."

Cantor believes Arafat and the Palestinian Authority could head a Palestinian state if they explicitly renounced violence as a means to a political end, and any claims to all of Palestine.

But, Dr. James Zogby, President and Founder of the Arab-American Institute, considers the Terrorism Taskforce memo counterproductive to the establishment of a lasting peace in the Middle East.

"I am surprised at its effort to undercut the... secretary of state at what clearly is a difficult time and an important time for U.S. diplomacy," Zogby said. "This task force seems to be making an effort to undercut the secretary's and the president's goals.

"Once again, a secretary of state and a president are committing themselves to a negotiated settlement, and there are those in Congress who are trying to undercut American diplomacy," he said. "What American diplomacy realizes is that this issue is not just Israelis and Palestinians, it's about America's regional interests, America's allies, and American goals in the broader region."

Zogby believes Cantor and his task force have an extremist position on the issue of Palestinian self-determination that is even to the right of the current Israeli government.

"I wonder what they want. Do they want to leave the situation as it is?" Zogby asked. "They say that Arafat is not a partner for peace. I am sure that there are those on the other side who would say that the Israelis are not a partner for peace.

"Both parties have to be partners for peace, and I don't believe that they (the task force) are right," Zogby said. "I don't believe that Arafat is not a partner [because] Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres in fact found Yasser Arafat to be a partner of peace."

Zogby believes negotiations between Arafat and the Israeli government must continue until a peaceful solution can be found, despite the statements from Cantor's task force.

"This group is a bad joke. It's a bad joke that has discredited itself with an extremist and very partisan view that is not in Israel's interest, and certainly is not in America's interest," he said. "It is really what you would expect from some of the most extreme members of the Israeli cabinet."