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WASHINGTON - What are the Palestinian Authority leaders telling the Americans that they are not telling Israel? A case in point is their intention to fight terrorism. When it comes to the suppression of terrorism, PA officials are telling both the Israelis and the Americans that they have no intention of setting off a civil war in the territories.

However, when Israel demands that they take vigorous action and arrest terrorists, they respond that Israel should stop trying to teach them how to cope with terrorists. "We will get along ourselves using our methods," they explain. But the Palestinians have reported their "methods" to Washington. For a terrorist to cease his activity there is no need to kill him, they say. The method is to buy him off with money. In other words, the Palestinians are asking the Americans for money, and lots of it, to neutralize terrorists.

In addition to buying terrorists with money, the Palestinians have asked Washington for $300,000 to rebuild their security organizations, and above all the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which belongs to Fatah, the organization of PA Chairman Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). This group is, in fact, a hard-core terrorist organization whose members have been involved in many acts of murder, including suicide bombings. Among other attacks, they joined Hamas in the assault at the Erez outpost a few days after the Aqaba summit conference, at which the leaders declared the end of the military conflict.

The Palestinians explained to the Americans that these are different groups in an organization that does not have a joint command. In the Nablus area and the adjacent Balata refugee camp, for example, there are at least five autonomous groups known as Al-Aqsa Martyrs that rarely coordinate their activities. Hence any agreement with one of these groups is not necessarily binding for the others.

For the most part, the groups' members are commanders in their early twenties, many of whom have a criminal background. They explained that it is not enough for the Palestinian prime minister to demand that they put a stop to their violent actions against Israel. They have a few prior conditions. First, they insist that, no matter what, they will not be punished or brought to trial for their past deeds. Second, they want jobs. It was by this method that the Palestinians' preventive security organizations tried in the past to deal with troublemakers who were wanted by Israel for terrorist acts. They were then frequently recruited by the police or preventive security groups and given salaries, even when some of them reverted to terrorism while in uniform.

The third demand has to do with money. The method proposed was that the Palestinian Authority would buy the weapons from these commanders, and present this as a success in the collecting of illegal arms. They say that they paid large sums for the weapons. In some cases weapons were confiscated from civilians with the promise to pay for them once they receive money from the PA. It is thought that the commander of each of these groups will have to pay tens of thousands of dollars. It is also clear that this method will produce various "middlemen" who will get their share of the booty.

Who can promise that the money the Americans are being asked to fork over in order to "buy" the terrorists' weapons will actually be used for a positive goal and will not be diverted to corrupt Palestinian officials? As in other cases of bribery, those who make the payoffs don't want to be examined too closely. Those who make the money transfers will, of course, want to use cash. It's difficult to know how the Americans will act in this matter. Many will say that this is like throwing money into the street. Others will undoubtedly take a firmer stand against the "method," because they will see it as paying bribery or a ransom to terrorists no less than conducting negotiations with terrorists to obtain the release of hostages with money.