‘Time Out’! Administration Efforts To Railroad Congress On Pro-PLO Legislation Is Bad Policy, Bad Process

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The Clinton Administration evidently has become so enthralled with the Palestine Liberation Organization that it is determined to make this long-time terrorist group "kosher." It hopes to do so by accomplishing the immediate and permanent evisceration of statutory protections against PLO terrorism and activities in the United States. Incredibly, had it not been for a single Senator — Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky — the Administration might already have stealthily secured the U.S. Senate’s endorsement of such an outrageous step.

High Drama on the Foreign Operations Bill

Shortly before the Senate was scheduled to consider the FY1994 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, the Administration’s point man on the Middle East, Dennis Ross, and other officials asked for an outright repeal of numerous provisions of law that prohibit or impede: negotiations (or "dialogue") with the PLO, funding for its activities, the establishment of PLO offices or operations in this country, the entry of PLO officials into the United States and other forms of assistance to the organization. Had such a repeal been effected, President Clinton could, at his discretion, do any or all of the following:

  • Authorize the U.S. to hold formal negotiations with the PLO;

  • Allow U.S. funds to be used directly to underwrite PLO programs;

  • Allow U.S. funds provided to international organizations (e.g., the World Bank and International Monetary Fund) to be used to finance PLO projects and activities;

  • Allow U.S. funds to be used to fund U.N. organizations that grant membership to the PLO;

  • Give a green light to PLO membership or observer status in the IMF;

  • Provide funds to the PLO pursuant to peace negotiations even if a PLO representative "directly participated" in the planning or execution of a terrorist act which resulted in the kidnapping or death of a U.S. citizen;

  • Allow the PLO to establish or maintain offices in the U.S. or fund other organizations here; and

  • Grant PLO officers, representatives or spokesmen U.S. visas.


No Sale

In meetings with staff representing Sen. McConnell and other members of the Senate Appropriations and Foreign Relations Committees, Mr. Ross quickly established that there would be serious opposition at this point to an outright repeal of such PLO-related legislation. The Administration responded by seeking authority for the President to waive for one year those statutory provisions he found inconvenient.

Further negotiations led to a tentative agreement between the State Department and most of those participating in these discussions on the Senate side. It would have produced an even more restrictive — but still quite troublesome — arrangement: Between the date of enactment and 1 January 1994, the President could waive various anti-PLO statutes after consultation with the relevant congressional committees and provided he certifies that (1) it is in the national interest of the United States to do so and (2) that the Palestine Liberation Organization continues to abide by all commitments made in recent letters and accords signed by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Too Much, Way Too Soon

Even this waiver would, under present circumstances, be grossly premature. There is, after all, no meaningful basis as yet by which to judge whether the PLO is faithfully living up to its commitments. If anything, the utter absence of any effort by Yasser Arafat to proselytize about or otherwise to promote Palestinian popular acceptance of the commitments he made in writing — notably, to Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and to the peaceful resolution of disputes — is an ominous sign.

It is, moreover, far from clear that the United States’ national interest would be served by permitting the establishment of Palestinian diplomatic missions or other offices in this country or by granting substantial access to this country by PLO officials. Given the use that Iran and Sudan have been making of diplomatic cover and entities to promote and conduct terrorist operations, it would be utterly irresponsible to allow an organization like the PLO — which has been involved in international terrorism for decades — an opportunity to do likewise.

At the very least, many of the provisions the President would be authorized to waive could serve to advance the cause of creating a new Arab Palestinian state west of the Jordan river. For example, observer status — to say nothing of membership in the IMF — would greatly enhance the PLO’s claim to sovereignty and nationhood. These are things that the Israeli government has repeatedly said it will not accept.

Successive U.S. administrations have also rejected the idea of adding a third state to the two that already exist in Palestine — one Jewish (Israel), one Arab (Jordan). The reasons for this longstanding opposition are obvious: Such a state would be too small and unviable economically and would, therefore, inevitably cause it to become a source of instability and potential danger to Israel and/or Jordan. It would have been tragic indeed had the Senate given impetus to precisely such an undesirable outcome by acceding to the Clinton Administration’s pressure for hasty and sweeping action.

McConnell at the Bridge

Fortunately, this outcome was narrowly averted at least for the moment thanks to Sen. McConnell’s refusal to go along. As the ranking minority member of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Foreign Operations Subcommittee, Sen. McConnell’s opposition even to the Administration’s final, desperate fall-back position — granting the President authority to waive relevant anti-PLO legislation just through 1 January 1994 — forced a still more restrictive compromise.

The final version of the FY94 bill gives President Clinton authority to do no more than permit international organizations supported by U.S. taxpayer resources to make funds available to the PLO. Even that authority is subject to the conditions and short time-line thrashed out in the course of the previous days’ negotiations.(1)

Sen. McConnell’s victory for American security and interests may be short-lived, however. The House-Senate conference on the Foreign Operations appropriations bill could try to adopt an approach closer to that originally sought by the Clinton Administration. Alternatively, two other pieces of legislation — the State Department and Foreign Assistance authorization bills — are due to be taken up by the Senate in the next few weeks. These bills will be managed by the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-RI), or his Democratic designee, senators who generally sympathize with State Department initiatives. All other things being equal, either one may be amended to include a longer-term or more expansive waiver than was adopted yesterday by the Senate.

The Bottom Line

The Center for Security Policy believes that the Clinton Administration’s precipitous — and sneaky — efforts to eliminate legislation governing the PLO and its activities in this country are reprehensible and most ill-advised. Thorough hearings into the direct effect and likely repercussions of even the modest relief from statutory constraints provided by the Senate on 23 September are needed.

Certainly, before any consideration is given to making more comprehensive or more permanent changes in existing legislation relating to the PLO and its ability to operate in this country, the Congress must be given an opportunity to examine thoroughly, debate fully and vote openly on the nature of such changes. Whatever Israel’s reasons for deciding to do business with the Palestine Liberation Organization, the United States has its own security interests and concerns.

Consequently, it is only with the greatest of care, deliberation and transparency that responsible decisions can be taken by the executive and legislative branches concerning relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization — decisions that may bear directly upon the security of American lives, the protection of U.S. interests at home and abroad and the rendering of justice for crimes previously conducted by the PLO against either, or both.

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1. It should be noted, however, that the precise manner in which this waiver authority would work is not clear at the moment. Since the Congress will not be in session on 1 January 1994, unless other arrangements are made, this authority would automatically lapse.


Center for Security Policy

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