Feb 23, 2004 3:45 pm


Here is another frustrating report sent by Barry Rubin.

In the midst of a"war against terrorism," three U.S. government employees are murdered in a terrorist attack. The local authorities side with the terrorists, covering up facts, blocking an investigation, and helping the perpetrators get away with it. Yet the United States continues to give some financial aid and diplomatic support for that regime.

The story of the murder of three U.S. security men in Gaza last October 15 is typical of the bizarre events in the Middle East which are taken for granted. Let's retell the story and examine some broader lessons drawn from it.

The attack: On October 15, 2003, a three-vehicle convoy of American SUV mini-vans drove into Gaza carrying U.S. State Department personnel. Their mission was to interview Palestinians for Fulbright scholarships to study or teach in the United States. They were escorted by Palestinian Authority (PA) police. But explosive charges in the road were blown up by terrorists watching from nearby. Three Americans were killed and one injured.

Lesson One: It would have been reasonable to expect outrage in the Arab world against the terrorists along with many articles about how the United States helped the Arab world, and so on. While Jordan's government condemned the attack, there is a general rule in the state-controlled Arab media that nothing positive can be said about America. By systematically ignoring or distorting U.S. actions that help Arabs or serve Arab interests, anti-American attitudes are deliberately constructed by the region's dictatorships.

The reaction: In highly publicized actions, PA Prime Minister Ahmad Qureia telephoned condolences to the U.S. government, promising the perpetrators would be caught. PA leader Yasir Arafat condemned the attack as a"terrible crime." At the same time, of course, Arafat has implemented a terrorist strategy since the year 2000 after rejecting a peaceful solution that would have ended the Israeli occupation and created a Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem.

In this case, the PA made no perceptible effort to solve the crime and catch those responsible. On the contrary, it let evidence be destroyed at the attack site and sabotaged American attempts at investigation while not carrying out any serious attempt to find out who was responsible and how the attack happened.

Lesson Two: This is similar to the treatment of Israel in such matters. Well-publicized public statements are made by PA leaders condemning terrorism while no attempt is made to stop it. Indeed, incitement to commit such acts is daily carried on by schools, the media, preachers in mosques, and even PA officials.

In this case, even Edward Abington, a former U.S. diplomat who became the PA's American lobbyist admitted that American officials were charging"that Arafat is dragging his feet on the investigation because the people who did it may get too close to Fatah," the group he heads.

The trial: Finally, in February 2004, the PA put four men on trial for relatively minor offensesnot first-degree murderin connection with the attack. It was a closed military tribunal, with no evidence made public. But two points were clear: PA statements showed these were not the main perpetrators and they tried to excuse the crime by insisting the attackers' target was an Israeli tank. How the person triggering the bomb confused a convoy of PA police vehicles and clearly marked diplomatic SUVs with a tank is left to the imagination.

Lesson Three: This trial is a cover-up. The real issues are who financed and aided these people? Who were the masterminds? What relations do they have with PA officials? Obviously, the PA's main concern is to hide its own encouragement and involvement in terrorism, as is the practice regarding terrorist attacks on Israelis. The ultimate outcome may also be the same: those convicted are quietly released after a few months to return to their terrorist activities.

U.S. policy response: The United States complained, in the words of State Department spokesman Richard Boucher,"They have not conducted a full, thorough and genuine investigation." The people on trial are not all those involved and the proceeding"doesn't really resolve theissue of who killed the Americans and whether they are being punished."

Lesson Four: U.S. experience during the peace process era as well as afterward, as in this case, shows the Palestinian leadership does not seek a peaceful resolution of the conflict even if that would provide them with a state. President George W. Bush's immediate reaction to the October attack was to say,"Palestinian authorities should have acted long ago to fight terror in all its forms," Secretary of State Colin Powell told Prime Minister Qureia that U.S. help on getting a Palestinian state would come if and when there was a really serious attempt to eliminate terrorism.

Yet even faced with this prize and the relatively simple task of proving their good intentions regarding the Fulbright murders case, the PA did not even try to fulfill its commitments.

Bottom Line: Like those responsible for murdering 1,000 Israelis since 2000, the murderers of the Americans will go free because the Palestinian leadership helps and protects them.

WITHOUT PAYING ANY PRICE - Rubin should have added.

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