State Dept. Report Says No Evidence Arafat Involved In Violence

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - A State Department report has absolved Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat of direct responsibility for the current spate of Mideast violence, in contrast to views expressed by senior administration officials and Israel's assessment of the situation on the ground.

The 18-page semi-annual report, sent to the White House and congressional leaders earlier this week, is intended to serve as a guide to relations between Washington and the PA.

Submitted three months later than scheduled, the report covers the time span from mid-June to mid-December last year. Its was subitted in accordance with 1989 legislation that allowed Arafat's PLO to begin operating legally in Washington.

The report repeatedly says that PA security forces, Arafat's Fatah faction or its Tanzim offshoot "instigated and directly participated in anti-Israel violence," including the use of firearms.

But it does not hold Arafat or the PA leadership responsible, saying it is "not clear if [they] ... sanctioned such actions."

"We have no indication that any of these [terrorist] elements or PA security officials have been disciplined. It is not clear, however, whether they acted with the approval of the PA or PLO senior leadership," it continues.

Yoram Ettinger, Israel's former liaison to the U.S. Congress, charged that the report - like all those issued since 1993, when Israel began negotiating with the PLO - "ignores reality in favor of misperception."

"Those who have composed [the report] are either ignorant of the facts on the ground or have decided to subordinate [the facts] to a policy which promotes the Oslo process," Ettinger said.

Oslo is the eight-year-old Israeli-Palestinian negotiating process, which has completely collapsed as a result of the violence and terrorism of the past six months.

Ettinger charged that those who try to differentiate between Arafat and the PA on the one hand and other Palestinian elements on the other when seeking to lay blame for terrorism is trying to promote their own political ideology.

"This is a report that ignores Arafat's persistent promotion of terrorism, harboring of terrorists, incitement of his own people against American, Israeli and [Jewish people].

He said the report also ignored the PLO's misuse of $900 million in U.S. funds, alleging that Arafat had used the money to improve the lifestyle of PA officials instead of investing it in the infrastructure in areas under his control.

Further, he charged, the report ignored human rights abuses, the PA oppression of the Christian minority, the burning of U.S. flags at Arafat-organized rallies and the PA leader's support of pariah states like Iraq and Sudan.

Zionist Organization of America president Morton A. Klein called the report a "whitewash."

"The State Department wants us to believe that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of 'individual' Fatah members and PA policemen have been engaging in violence without Arafat's approval," Klein said in a statement.

"When Arafat is involved, the State Department bends over backwards to whitewash him."

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment on the actual report but and official repeated Israel's view.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he holds Arafat personally responsible for the numerous terrorist attacks and has demanded that violence stop completely before Israel returns to the negotiating table.

A ministry official said Israel would judge Arafat according to the efforts exerted to stop the violence, and according to the results achieved.

Israel was not saying Arafat was able to stop every attack, the source said. But he "created the situation of semi-anarchy" by encouraging Palestinians to carry on the "holy war" instead of placing the emphasis on peace talks.

"Even if he doesn't control fully [the people], he certainly has a lot of influence."

The State Department report contrasts with statements by top administration officials, who have called on Arafat to address his people in their own language about stopping the violence.

In what was described as a tough meeting Wednesday with visiting Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice reportedly told him plainly that Arafat was responsible for the violence.

Last week, President Bush himself said that by not inviting Arafat to the White House until things calm down he was sending a message to the PA leader to "stop the violence".

Secretary of State Colin Powell has also telephoned Arafat a number of times to pass on a similar message. Members of Congress have called on Arafat to use his influence to stop the violence.