Last week, as a Palestinian terrorist murdered 22 Israelis sitting down to their Passover seder, the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade became the first group affiliated with Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement to be added to the U.S. list of Foreign Terrorist Organization since the United States normalized relations with the Palestinian Liberation Organization after the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993.
Composed of Arafat loyalists, funded by Fatah through the Tanzim militias, and assisted in coordination of their attacks by members of Arafat’s Force 17 security services, the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade has dramatically outpaced Islamic extremist organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad in attacks on Israelis. Since the beginning of the year, reports indicate that close to 70 Israelis have been murdered, and more than 500 have been wounded in terrorist attacks attributed to the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade alone.
The designation was eagerly anticipated in Congress, where I recently joined Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami) in sending a letter signed by over 235 U.S. representatives urging President Bush to place the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, along with the Tanzim and Force 17, on the list. We applaud this move as a serious indictment of Arafat for the free rein he has given terrorist groups and as a warrant for the Bush administration’s close examination of the extent to which high level Palestinian officials are involved in planning and financing attacks. Unless Arafat makes a decisive choice to isolate and eliminate the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade’s operations, he and his entire organization must be viewed as terrorists, and as such should be subject to severe diplomatic and financial sanctions.
Unfortunately, the Palestinian leadership’s continued refusal to implement a U.S. brokered cease-fire demonstrates that Arafat is unwilling to take even the most basic steps for security cooperation. Even as Gen. Anthony Zinni has attempted to facilitate a meeting between Vice President Cheney and Arafat by arranging United States-brokered talks between Israeli and Palestinian security forces, Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade suicide bombers have struck central Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
This comes only three months after it was revealed that senior Palestinian officials were arranging the Karine-A shipment of arms at the same time they negotiated the Tenet plan and approved the Mitchell report. The shipment, which contained Iranian-supplied Kassam rockets and at least 2,200 kilograms of the TNT and C-4 explosives used in suicide attacks, was another flagrant display of Arafat’s lack of credibility in dealing with Israel and the United States.
Until Arafat abandons his strategy of relying on terrorist attacks to put pressure on Israel, he is incapable of sincerely negotiating a cease-fire. Until he stops supporting, sustaining and supplying terrorist factions, he will continue to undermine U.S. efforts to restore stability in the region. And, until he takes action to confiscate the terrorist weapons, close down bomb-making labs, and arrest the militants training to become suicide attackers, he leaves Israel with no choice but to take all measures necessary to defend its citizens. It was right for Cheney not to meet with him. It is appropriate for the United States to consider him not just an obstacle, but an opponent of our efforts for peace and our war against terrorism.