At his confirmation hearings, U.S. Defense Secretary-designate Ashton Carter expressed concern about safe havens for terrorists in Afghanistan, Libya, and Pakistan. Yet for some reason, he neglected to mention the Middle Eastern regime that is one of the worst offenders when it comes to granting safe haven to terrorists—the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Discussing the vacuum that will be left when the last American troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan, Carter testified at the Senate hearings that the Obama administration’s “counter-terrorism strategy begins foremost” with preventing the creation of “safe havens” for terrorists.
Carter also expressed concern about “the terrorist safe haven in Libya” and pledged to “hold Pakistan accountable” for permitting terrorists to operate from its territory. So when will the U.S. hold the PA regime accountable?
The Oslo Accords (Annex IV, Article 2, par.7f) specifically require the PA to honor all Israeli requests for the extradition of terrorists. During 1996-1998, Israel filed such requests for 36 terrorists. The PA simply ignored them.
PA officials tried to deflect the pressure by claiming the PA itself was imprisoning the terrorists. This was not a valid legal reason to ignore the extradition requests—but they hoped to convince Western skeptics that since the terrorists were behind bars, it didn’t matter whether they were in Israeli or Palestinian jails.
But it did matter, because the Palestinian jails turned out to be a joke. In March 1998, the Jerusalem Report revealed that the PA constructed an “elaborate ruse” in its Jericho prison in order to fool a visiting Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official who wanted to see if two particular terrorists were behind bars. The terrorists in question were placed in a cell just before the CIA man arrived. Afterwards, the killers returned to “leading normal lives outside the prison walls,” where they were often seen “at coffee shops and markets in the town, in the company of family members and friends.”
Slowly, grudgingly, U.S. officials began to acknowledge the problem. Then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in 1997 that the PA did indeed have a system of “revolving-door justice” when it came to handling terrorists.
I know something about this first-hand. My daughter Alisa was murdered in a Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. Two of the terrorists who were publicly identified by Israel and the United States as suspects in the attack, Nabil Sharihi and Adnan al-Ghoul, were at one time briefly detained by the PA, and then set free. Three other identified suspects in the attack, Yousef Samiri, Hassan Hamadan, Nasser Hindawi, were likewise enjoying the safe haven of PA territory.
To make matters worse, some terrorist suspects were being rewarded with jobs in the Palestinian Security Forces or other branches of the PA regime. Abd Al-Majid Dudin, a prime suspect in the bombing that murdered Connecticut schoolteacher Joan Davenny in 1995, was appointed as a guard in the very jail where he was supposed to be a prisoner.
There was a crescendo of criticism in 2001. In March of that year, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations urged the Bush administration to put the PA itself “on the U.S. government’s terrorism list.” In April, 87 U.S. senators and 209 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter calling for “a reassessment of our relations with the Palestinians,” in response to the PA’s sponsorship of terrorist attacks and releases of jailed terrorists. In December, President George W. Bush himself acknowledged that the PA’s jails have “bars in the front and revolving doors in the back.”
But then the issue faded from the headlines. Those strongly worded condemnations turned out to be just words, with no follow-up, no suspension of U.S. aid to the Palestinians, no consequences of any kind. When Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died in 2004, a new narrative arose: Arafat had been a bad guy, but his successor Mahmoud Abbas, is “moderate.”
The truth is, however, that the same policy of sheltering terrorists that began under Arafat has continued under Abbas. The Israeli extradition requests have been ignored. The revolving doors in the PA’s prisons have not been replaced with genuine bars. Terrorists still roam PA territory freely. The only difference is that nobody talks about it.
Every once in a while, a little something slips out. Last March, for example, the New York Times published a report about Israeli troops going into the PA-ruled area of Jenin in pursuit of terrorists. The reporter needed to explain why it is that the Israelis, and not the PA police, were doing the pursuing. The reason, she said, was that although the Jenin refugee camp is under the “full control” of the PA, “the Palestinian [security forces] did not generally operate in refugee camps.”
The Jenin refugee camp is a notorious hotbed of terrorism. According to the BBC, Palestinians call it “the Martyrs’ Capital” and at least 28 suicide bombers came from the camp during 2001-2003 alone. Yet it is what might be called a “No-Go Zone” for the PA security forces. Jenin is, in other words, the epitome of a safe haven for terrorists.
America’s anti-terrorism policy must be consistent if it is to be effective. No safe havens for terrorists—whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, or the PA—should be tolerated.