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Misguided Threat to the PLO

April 12, 2002

Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization cannot be legislated out of existence, as some members of Congress seem to be hoping. The congressional efforts, aside from being futile, could significantly harm U.S. efforts to end the bloodshed in the Mideast.

It's one thing to issue an expression of support for Israel, as in a resolution being circulated by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee and a Holocaust survivor. But Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) contemplate something reckless. Feinstein indicates that if Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's current mission fails (and who and what defines failure?), she will introduce joint legislation with McConnell that legally and financially targets Arafat and the PLO.

Last fall, Feinstein and McConnell announced they would offer an amendment to the foreign aid appropriations bill that would have required the president to impose sanctions on the PLO and its governing arm, the Palestinian Authority, if it did not repudiate violence and terrorism. Powell talked them out of it, but the measure didn't really die.

Now, with the region aflame, the senators are working on a new version that would, according to published reports, name the PLO a terrorist organization, end all U.S. aid that is not strictly humanitarian and deny U.S. visas to Palestinian officials, including Arafat.

Feinstein and McConnell are playing to natural U.S. sympathies and bonds with Israel. But this is not the moment for political gesturing. Powell, who is trying against the odds to broker a truce, would be undermined by even proposed legislation that further deepens Arab mistrust of U.S. intentions. If the legislation omits presidential authority to override the sanctions, as its previous version did, President Bush's hands would be tied.

Obviously, the Palestinians haven't lived up to the promises they made in the 1993 Oslo agreement, and no one should attempt to excuse Arafat's encouragement of suicide bombings. But treating the PLO as the outright enemy of the United States would only spur more bloodshed and dim Powell's chances.

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