Two weeks have now passed since Palestinian terrorists attacked an American diplomatic convoy in Gaza on October 15, deliberately killing three US citizens in a wanton act of murder.
The attack, of course, was astonishing, if only because it marked the first time in years that the Palestinians have singled out Americans as their target. But what is even more startling is what took place back in Washington on that very same day, when US President George W. Bush signed a six-month waiver of the 1987 Anti-Terrorism Act, allowing the PLO's offices in America to remain open.
In a short letter addressed to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Bush declared, "I hereby determine and certify that it is important to the national security interests of the United States" that the PLO offices continue to function as usual.
So, even as Palestinian terrorists were brazenly killing Americans, the White House was generously rewarding them with a six-month extension of their lease.
To be fair, Bush did condemn the Gaza attack, and went so far as to publicly blame "Palestinian authorities" for their failure to combat terror, a lapse, he noted, which "continues to cost lives."
Nevertheless, in the time which has elapsed since the assault, there have been no indications that the Palestinians will be made to pay a price for their actions. And that is where the Bush administration is making a very big mistake.
By all accounts, the Gaza attack left America's emissaries in the area in a state of shock, and rightly so.
The evidence clearly indicates that this was no case of mistaken identity. The perpetrators are said to have used a remote-controlled device, allowing them to set off the explosion only once a Palestinian police vehicle accompanying the Americans had safely passed by.
The vehicles targeted all bore diplomatic plates, and they were traveling on a road that is closed to Israeli cars. Hence, there can be no doubt that this was a calculated and premeditated assault on Uncle Sam.
In effect, it was a Palestinian declaration of war against America.
Indeed, on October 10, just five days before the attack, the official Palestinian television station broadcast a Friday prayer sermon delivered at the Sheikh Zaid Bin-Sultan mosque in Gaza, where the preacher exhorted his listeners as follows, "We hear statements by the little US president. We hear unfair and tyrannical statements in which he says Israel has the right to defend itself. These statements carry destruction for the United States itself."
"From this place," he continued, "we warn the American people that this president is dragging them to the abyss."
Remember, this sermon was delivered in Gaza, where the attack itself took place, and those words of warning were uttered before it had occurred.
Similarly, on September 10, Yasser Arafat's official TV station broadcast yet another fiery anti-American sermon delivered, once again, in Gaza, in which the preacher vowed that, "We will defeat America as long as it supports our enemy we consider America to be our No. 1 enemy."
THUS, EVEN if Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are not directly behind the attack, they most certainly bear responsibility for stirring up anti-American sentiment and inciting and encouraging the terrorists to strike against the United States and its representatives.
The Bush administration's response, or lack thereof, to Arafat's latest outrage is quite simply a recipe for further attacks because the terrorists now see that they can act with virtual impunity, even against America and its diplomats.
To set the record straight in this regard and send a strong message to the terrorists, it is time for Washington to adopt a series of steps aimed at punishing the Palestinian Authority.
To begin with, Bush should waive the waiver he signed on October 15, and order PLO offices in America shut down permanently. There is simply no excuse for allowing an organization involved in killing Americans to continue to operate freely on American soil.
In addition, all PLO assets and those of its leadership should be frozen forthwith to prevent the flow of funds to an entity that harbors, encourages and engages in terrorism. Likewise, Palestinian officials should be declared persona non grata, and barred entry to the United States.
Secondly, the administration can work toward implementing the Koby Mandell Act of 2003, a bill before Congress that would create a special office in the US Justice Department to ensure that firmer measures are taken against killers of Americans. For most of the past decade, Washington has done little to bring Palestinian terrorists to justice for their crimes. In the wake of September 11, it is time for that to change.
Finally, if America truly wishes to see justice served, it can once and for all remove the constraints it has placed on Israel, and give Prime Minister Ariel Sharon the green light he needs to do some "regime-changing" of his own in the Palestinian-controlled areas.
For over a decade, the PA has been in the business of killing Jews and Israelis. The October 15 attack indicates it may now be looking to expand its franchise and take out Americans as well. Better to shut down this menace now and free us all from the danger it continues to pose.
The Palestinians have declared war on Israel and the West. If America, for whatever reason, is unwilling to fight it, the least it can do is allow Israel to finish the job.The writer served as deputy director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister's Office under former premier Binyamin Netanyahu.
©2003 - Jerusalem Post