Published in the Jerusalem Post
February 10, 2005
Like so many other diplomatically inconvenient dilemmas, when it comes to the Palestinian Authority, the still unsolved murders of three Americans in Gaza two years ago has fallen victim to efforts to bolster the new Palestinian leadership.
With Secretary of State Condoleezza Rices visit to Ramallah now history, it is apparent that the arrest of the terrorists responsible for the killings is not a priority, nor a prerequisite to high-level American visits.
On October 15, 2003, Palestinian terrorists detonated a powerful roadside bomb at the Beit Hanoun junction in Gaza as a convoy of American embassy officials were traveling by. The bomb, activated by remote control and utilizing over 75 kg. of plastic explosives, murdered three US nationals — John Branchizio, 37, of Texas; John Linde Jr., 30, of Missouri; and Mark Parsons, 31, of New Jersey.
A fourth American, a 36-year-old diplomat at the US Embassy, was also injured in the attack and taken by helicopter to a hospital in Beersheba.
The three Americans killed in the blast were security agents guarding the diplomatic vehicles. The embassy staff had decided to visit Gaza to interview Palestinian candidates for Fulbright academic scholarships.
Shortly after the attack, an unidentified caller to media organizations claimed that a group calling itself the Popular Resistance Committees was behind the attack. Israeli intelligence sources, however, discounted the calls and placed the blame on members of the Fatah PLO force operating in Gaza under the command of Muhammad Dahlan and Rashid Abu Shabak.
Outraged by the deliberate attack on US officials, the State Department demanded that the PA quickly hunt down all the terrorists involved and place them on trial. The United States will pursue the perpetrators until they are caught and brought to justice, vowed then State Department spokeswoman Brooke Summers.
Toward this end an FBI team was swiftly dispatched to Gaza City to assist the Palestinians in investigating the bombing. Israeli allegations that the security services in Gaza were behind the bombing notwithstanding, the PA announced that it was placing Abu Shabak, the head of the Gaza Preventive Security Service and a fugitive terrorist being hunted by Israel, in charge of the Palestinian inquiry.
To Date the PAs investigation has been less than successful. None of the terrorists were ever apprehended or charged with the crime. Only months ago Musa Arafat, the head of PA military intelligence and a cousin of Yasser Arafat, admitted to journalists that the PA knew exactly who had targeted the American convoy but couldnt make arrests because of the on-going terror war.
Arafat told Reuters on September 22, 2004: Palestinian security forces know who was behind the killing of three Americans in Gaza nearly a year ago but cannot act against the factions while fighting with Israel continues.
The PA told the Americans that for Palestinian police to arrest the Palestinian cell that murdered the American officials in cold blood could spark off a civil war between rival terrorist factions.
Until recently the US, however, had continued to demand that the killers be brought to justice. The State Department had been refusing to dispatch any high-level diplomats to meet with PA officials until the terrorists were arrested and indicted.
Suddenly, however, with the election of a new Palestinian leader last month, the State Department has dropped that prerequisite. The murders have been quietly swept under the rug.
The pursuit of justice for the killing of Linde, Parsons and Branchizio cannot be simply deemed diplomatically inconvenient and then ignored, just as the terrorist killing and maiming of thousands of Israelis during the past four years is again being forgotten and forgiven. Justice for the victims and families of the crimes perpetrated by Palestinian terrorist groups cannot become the next casualty of the peace process.
If the PA, as Musa Arafat claims, knows the identity of the murderers of the three Americans, then they must be arrested and brought to trial.
The State Department, which is spoiling to find ways to increase financial aid to the PA, must insist that the Fatah terrorists who killed the three Americans in Gaza be captured before any benefits are considered. It cannot permit Gaza to become a city of refuge for those who deliberately target American diplomats simply because the show must go on.
More than 50 other Americans have been killed in the violence carried out by Palestinians since the outbreak of the terror war, yet not a single arrest of a suspect has been made by the PA security services. As such, anything less than arresting the bombers of the embassy convoy would make a perilous mockery of Americas determination to combat terrorism everywhere.
If the US cannot compel the PA to turn over the murderers of people assigned to protect its own diplomatic corps, how can we expect to influence the Palestinians to stop the attacks and incitement against Israeli civilians?
The writer is National President of the Zionist Organization of America.