Terrorism report weak on Palestinian links, critics charge

WASHINGTON — The State Department continues to separate the Palestinian leadership from terror attacks, an approach that has caused concern — and anger — among Jewish leaders and analysts.

In its annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report released Tuesday, the State Department indicates members of the Tanzim militia were responsible for attacks against Israeli targets, but does not link those attacks to senior members of Fatah, the political party of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

The report describes Tanzim as "made up of small and loosely organized cells of militants drawn from the street-level membership of Fatah."

"We've made it very clear that there are members of Tanzim that are also members of the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade," said Francis Taylor, State Department coordinator on counterterrorism. "That's not a secret. What we have not been able to determine or to make a final judgment is how far up and who in the P.A. may be, or could be, or had been directing this activity. We have not found that linkage."

Taylor said the State Department confirmed the authenticity of documents that Israel says show a clear link between Arafat and terrorist organizations, but said the documents are still under review.

Analysts and American Jewish leaders aren't pleased with the report.

"This report gives short shrift to Palestinian terrorism in general, certainly to Palestinian Authority involvement in terrorism," charged Matthew Levitt, a senior fellow in terrorism studies at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "There is concrete evidence that senior Palestinian officials called for, incited and conducted terrorist attacks."

Significantly, there is only brief mention of the Karine-A, a ship carrying 50 tons of weapons to the Palestinian territories from Iran. Top echelons of the Palestinian Authority are believed to have supervised the $50 million operation.

State Department officials say the ship seizure was omitted because it was not intercepted until January 2002, while the report examines incidents only through December 2001.

Yet Levitt notes that the abduction and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, which is described in detail, also occurred in January.

The report noted significant attacks on Israel by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, all members of the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization list.

The Al-Aksa Brigade, a military wing of Fatah, was added to the terrorist list earlier this year.

The report also cited attacks by Jewish extremists on Palestinian civilians and properties in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and attacks by the Israeli military on the Palestinian Authority's security apparatus.

Palestinian Authority operations have become less effective, the report said. "Significantly reduced Israeli-P.A. security cooperation and a lax security environment allowed Hamas and other groups to rebuild terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian territories."

The report also says that Palestinian Authority counterterrorism activities "remained sporadic throughout the year," which Jewish leaders said is euphemistic.

"It's implying that there is counterterrorism activity," said Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Some have argued that Palestinian leaders received a pass in this report — and in other recent assessments by the Bush administration — so the United States could continue a political dialogue with Arafat and other Arab leaders, who continue to see Arafat's participation as critical to ending the Mideast conflict.

"There are few left in this administration and Congress that doubt that Arafat's actions, or inaction, have led to an escalation and perpetration of violence against Israel," said Rebecca Needler, spokeswoman for AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Syria remains on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, along with Cuba, Libya, Sudan, Iraq and North Korea. Iran, also on the list, was again named the "most active state sponsor of terrorism," and the report says Iranian support for Palestinian terrorist groups has intensified. Iran was accused of providing "varying amounts of funding, safe haven, training and weapons" to Palestinian groups.

Iraq and Lebanon were cited for supporting Palestininan actions, and Saudi Arabia, which the United States has embraced in recent months as a key contact toward ending the Middle East conflict, was praised for reaffirming "its commitment to combat terrorism." Israel has attempted to show links between Saudi officials and Palestinian terrorism.