U.S. report: Arafat is absolved

WASHINGTON — A State Department report evaluating Palestinian compliance with Israeli-Palestinian accords acknowledges that Palestinian policemen and members of the Tanzim, Arafat's military faction of the Fatah party, have participated in and encouraged violent protests. But the report absolves Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat of responsibility for the violence by concluding that it is unclear if these individuals acted on orders from senior authority officials.

The 18-page semi-annual report was sent to the White House and forwarded to congressional leaders on Monday, three months after its scheduled submission date. The report covers the period from mid-June through mid-December and is meant to serve as a guide for the administration regarding its relations with the Palestinian Authority.

"During the period covered by this report, elements of Fatah, a PLO faction, and members of the PA's security forces instigated and participated in anti-Israeli violence," the report says. "We have no indication that any of these 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."

The report's findings come only days after President Bush and other senior administration officials publicly blamed Arafat for perpetuating the violence and called on him directly to stop it. Assistant Secretary of State Ned Walker told legislators last week Arafat's "forces are prepared to do what he wants them to do."

The report, issued in accordance with the PLO Commitments Compliance Act of 1989, reiterates several times that it is impossible to say if the Palestinian Authority or PLO sanctioned violent acts. To support the assertion, it says Israeli security officials are divided over whether the Tanzim and Palestinian security personnel acted with prior knowledge or approval of their senior leadership.

"While it is difficult to determine whom, if anyone, planned specific instances of anti-Israeli violence, public statements by leaders of the Tanzim clearly encouraged violence. The degree of responsibility by senior PLO and PA officials was less clear," the report says.

It adds: "The Palestinian Authority did not change its policy opposing terrorism during this reporting period."

David Schenker, an analyst of Palestinian affairs at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the report fails to "reflect an understanding that the PLO controls Fatah," and that its vagueness appears meant to leave the administration a wide range of options for dealing with Arafat and the authority.

"By not apportioning blame, the report doesn't compel the administration into sanctioning or otherwise penalizing the PLO or the PA," Schenker said.

The report, which is based primarily on media reports, cites public statements by Tanzim leaders in which they spoke of the need for greater coordination with Hamas, an extremist group, and cites Israeli criticism of the Authority for releasing Hamas and PLO prisoners. However, it does not describe the acts as violations of past Israeli-Palestinian agreements.