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Copyright 1995 The Jerusalem Post
The Jerusalem Post

April 18, 1995



In meetings with Israelis, PLO officials claim that they have stepped up their efforts to stem terrorism. This claim has been accompanied by a media debate about whether or not the agreement with the PLO has been a success in light of arguable Palestinian Authority violations.

However one might assess the PA's behavior vis-a-vis Israeli security, one violation is painfully clear.

The following is Item 2 of the first appendix to the Cairo accord, signed between Israel and the PLO on May 4, 1994:

"The PLO undertakes to cooperate with Israel, and to assist it in its efforts to locate and to return to Israel Israeli soldiers who are missing in action, and the bodies of killed soldiers which have not been recovered."

Since this statement was signed by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Arafat has routinely denied possession of any information about Israel's missing soldiers.

This denial defies both logic and history.

On December 6, 1993, Arafat, in a widely publicized gesture, delivered half of the ID tag belonging to Zachary Baumel, one of three Israeli soldiers missing since the battle of Sultan Yakoub on June 11, 1982. Arafat promised to divulge further information within two weeks. It has been 15 months since that pledge was made, and no such information has been forthcoming.

The return of their son's ID tag did not, as Prime Minister Rabin had hoped, bring sudden comfort to the Baumels. (Rabin declared the event "a significant step toward resolving the fates of Baumel, Feldman and Katz.") It did, however, verify that the PLO possesses, at the very least, critical information regarding the fate of the Sultan Yakoub MIAs.

Arafat has never revealed when, where, and from whom he came to possess the Baumel ID tag. This simple piece of data represents vital information, as whoever brought the ID tag to Arafat's offices is one step closer to Baumel and the other captives.

Furthermore, it was well known to the families of the MIAs, as well as the Israeli government, that for years Arafat possessed the entire unbroken ID tag. The return of only half the tag is a slap in the face, one whose greater symbolism must not be lost.

Arafat knows full well that the Israeli army ID tag represents the life of a soldier; and that a broken tag implies death.

Additionally, the known facts about the missing men implicate Arafat.

IT WAS widely reported in 1982 that three Israeli tank crewmen were paraded through the streets of Damascus.

Even Amnesty International, whose attitude toward Israel is consistently less than favorable, has reported that the men are believed to be alive and held in Syrian controlled Lebanon (Amnesty Report 1988).

For over half a year after their capture, the Sultan Yakoub captives were held in PLO custody, before the faction holding them split from the PLO, taking the soldiers with them. It is inconceivable that Arafat does not know who these men are, and where they went.

To make matters worse, at a press conference in Moscow on April 25 last year, Rabin said that he knew Arafat had further information, but that Arafat was reluctant to divulge it for fear of complicating his relationship with Syria. It is difficult to imagine Arafat pointing a finger at Assad for any reason, let alone to help save Israeli lives.

Arguments are frequently made that Arafat has changed his ways, and that his terrorist days are over. Arafat's apologists also claim that he is doing the best he can under difficult circumstances.

Even if the most generous assessments of the PLO chairman's behavior are true, the fact that he continues to withhold information regarding Israel's captive and missing soldiers vindicates those who believe otherwise.

At last check, having any part in the taking or holding of hostages was still included in the international definition of terrorism.

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