D.C. Gives Palestinian Authority Low Grade

Date: 09-21-05

By BARRY SCHWEID, AP Diplomatic Writer

WASHINGTON - Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas drew poor grades on Capitol Hill for his handling of terror groups.

At a House hearing Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch said Abbas had taken some steps to assert control of security but "overall Palestinian Authority performance to date has been far from satisfactory."

"The PA must move quickly to establish order and take steps to dismantle the infrastructure of terror," Welch testified.

Criticizing Israel as well, the State Department official said Israel must stop settlement expansion on the West Bank and dismantle unauthorized outposts there.

Still, Welch gave no indication Bush administration support for Abbas and the Palestinian Authority was slipping.

He said the Palestinians were receiving $225 million in U.S. aid this year.

The hearing by an International Relations subcommittee was designed to assess developments in Gaza since Israel withdrew all Jewish residents and troops.

The chair, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (news, bio, voting record), R-Fla., and several other members strongly criticized the Palestinians.

"Lawlessness within the Gaza Strip and continued attacks against Israel have characterized the Palestinian response to disengagement," Ros-Lehtinen said of the post-pullout period.

The Abbas government's failure to prevent terrorists from using Gaza as a haven will undermine any hopes for progress toward peace, she said.

Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (news, bio, voting record), D-N.Y. was scathing.

"Let's be honest," he said. "On good days, the Palestinian Authority is rife with corruption and riddled with political hacks and thugs."

"It vacillates, caves and pretends that appeasement is the highest of political virtues," Ackerman said. "Yet this is the horse we are betting on."

Assailing the Bush administration as well, Ackerman said of the Palestinians: "They never deliver anything, and that is because they have come to the conclusion we are a bunch of paper tigers."

Israel, meanwhile, surrenders Gaza, withdraws from part of the West Bank and makes other concessions, while Abbas "is not enforcing anything," he said.

Rep. Thaddeus G. McCotter (news, bio, voting record), R-Mich., questioned allowing Hamas and other groups considered terrorist by the State Department to participate in Palestinian legislative elections in January.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has threatened to withhold cooperation with the elections if Hamas candidates take part.

But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday urged Israel not to interfere with the elections. "I think we have to give the Palestinians some room for the evolution of their political process," she said.



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