Arafat's Progress in Fighting Terror

The Palestinian Authority has taken several serious new steps, but more are needed

SINCE the recent horrific terror bombings in Israel, Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat finally has begun to take measures to crack down on Hamas.

The government of Israel has put Mr. Arafat on notice that its tolerance of the PA's start-up period is over. Israel will not implement the next stage of the peace agreement until the PA has gotten terror under control and revoked those parts of the Palestinian Covenant that explicitly or implicitly call for the destruction of Israel.

United States financial assistance to the PA is contingent upon Palestinians' compliance with commitments they made in the Oslo peace accords: First and foremost, to make a determined effort to crack down on terror.

The strong US-Israel relationship commits the US to assist Israel. In doing so, we generally rely on Israel's assessment of matters concerning its own security. Congress and the administration should be guided by Israel's judgment of the PA's ability and willingness to control terror. It is Israelis who are in the line of fire.

What is Arafat's record? Discussions with Israeli analysts reveal a limited but important set of actions before the recent spate of bombings:

In the last year, PA security forces have sometimes succeeded in preventing terror. For example, on Aug. 25, 1995, Palestinian police preempted a suicide attack that had been planned for Aug. 29 at the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem by apprehending the terrorist planning the attack.

Since their establishment, the PA's security agencies have cooperated with Israeli intelligence in antiterror-intelligence activities.

For six months prior to the recent terror bombings in Jerusalem, Ashkelon, and Tel Aviv, Arafat's strategy - not supported by the Israelis - was apparently to contain the military arm of Hamas by negotiating an agreement whereby Hamas would refrain from all acts of terror. During this six-month period Hamas did not wage terror. Hamas leaders countered Arafat's demand by saying they would only agree to cease terror from areas under PA control and continue to attack Israelis from territory under Israel's control. Arafat insisted that they halt all terror activities or there would be no agreement. Hence, the negotiations broke off.

Hoping that negotiations with Hamas would produce results, Arafat avoided confrontation with its military leadership. This strategy had devastating consequences. Now Arafat must realize that negotiating with Hamas is fruitless and must use his popular mandate for peace from the first-ever Palestinian elections to act decisively.

Since the attacks, Arafat has taken actions to get to the roots of the Hamas terror infrastructure:

On March 6, PA security forces raided and closed 41 Hamas institutions, including the Islamic University in Gaza, mosques, and health clinics that it suspected were being misused. Explosives, weapons, ammunition, and other terrorist tools were discovered and confiscated.

The PA security forces' search for the military leadership of Hamas (including a list of 13 most wanted men submitted to Arafat by the Israeli government) has resulted in the arrest of more than 700 people. Of the 13 most wanted, seven have been arrested.

A Hamas recruiter of young suicide bombers was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison with hard labor and no chance of parole. This is one indication that perhaps Arafat is taking a no-nonsense approach. In the past, when the Palestinian security forces arrested Palestinians, they were often released or given very light sentences. Arafat's actions will have to be carefully monitored to make sure that he doesn't revert to a revolving-door ''detention- early release'' policy.

Through a paid advertisement in Al-Quds, the largest-circulation Palestinian newspaper, the general director of the Palestinian police called on Palestinians not to give any assistance to any individual on the PA's ''most wanted list.'' The ad also reminded the Palestinian public that individuals will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law if they harbor information about the identity or activities of terrorists or the terrorists themselves.

On March 4, 5, and 6, the PA's radio broadcast harsh condemnations of the bombings by at least 30 senior Palestinian leaders and newspaper editors. At least 25 civic institutions issued statements against the bombings, and a group of 51 Palestinian intellectuals, artists, and writers signed a paid advertisement opposing the bombings.

Finally, Arafat set the agenda when he told the elected Palestinian Council at its inaugural meeting that ''violence and terrorism are against all religious, spiritual, human, national, and pan-Arab values.'' Arafat went on to state that acts of terror are against Palestinians' interests. He also told the council members that he would ask them within the next two months (as required by the Oslo peace accords he signed with Israel) to approve amendments to those parts of the Palestinian Covenant that conflict with commitments made by the PLO to recognize Israel and actively oppose all acts of terror.

Will the Clinton administration and members of Congress be able to conclude that Arafat has completed the task of defeating Hamas's terror campaign? The answer is likely to be no.

But the record demonstrates that he has taken several important new steps. Arafat will have to demonstrate, however, that he is engaged in a continuous effort to apprehend terrorists and use his leadership and new electoral mandate to reject violence. He will also have to fulfill his commitment to obtain amendment of the Palestinian Charter from the Palestinian National Council.

How does Israel's prime minister view Arafat's efforts to date? Shimon Peres recently gave his evaluation: ''He's doing more than before but until he has the commanders of the military wing of Hamas, I won't be satisfied.'' And neither should we.

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