U.S. Representative Joseph M. Hoeffel (D) is currently serving his second term representing Pennsylvania's 13th district. He was first elected to office as representative to the state legislature in Harrisburg in 1976 and served four terms from 1977-1984. Mr. Hoeffel is now a member of the House of Representative's budget committee and the committee on international relations. He is a graduate of Swarthmore College and Temple University's School of Law. The congressman spoke to the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia on June 3, 2002.On a recent trip to Israel, I met with victims of terrorist attacks and reviewed evidence provided by the Israeli government implicating Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat in the ongoing wave of terrorism carried out by Palestinian militants against Israeli citizens. These attacks, and their links to the Palestinian Authority, have deep implications for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
Israel's Fight Against Terror
The terrorism faced by Israel is unacceptable and horrible. Since September 2000, Israel has suffered as the result of more than 40 suicide bombings, 500 mortalities, and 4,000 casualties. Israel has the right to defend itself and it is not for America to determine the limits of an Israeli response to terrorism.
Both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. President George W. Bush share a common attitude towards terrorism. Mr. Sharon says that there can be no compromise with terror and President Bush says that there must be a zero tolerance for terrorism in the Middle East (and the rest of the world, for that matter). It is clear that Yasir Arafat cannot be the exception to the president's doctrine on terrorism.
On May 2nd, my colleagues and I passed a congressional resolution expressing solidarity with Israel, while concurrently condemning the ongoing Palestinian terrorism. Four days later, I traveled to Israel as part of a four-member delegation to express congressional solidarity with the people of Israel. What I learned was that despite the threat of terrorism, Israelis have a wonderful spirit and remain an upbeat, courageous, and confident people.
Arafat Can Stop the Terror
Documents seized by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) this spring, during the raid on Arafat's Ramallah compound, provide irrefutable links between Arafat and Palestinian terrorism. Memos in Arabic - signed by Arafat - show that the Palestinian Authority compensated the families of shuhada', or "freedom fighters" involved in suicide bombing operations. Other memos show that Arafat actually allocated cash to militant groups. Indeed, these documents proved that Arafat was aware of the terrorism, directed it, and can stop much of it should he choose to do so.
There is also the matter of the Karine A affair, whereby the Palestinian Authority attempted to smuggle in 50 tons (valued at $8 to $10 million) of weapons from Iran that were deemed illegal by the 1993 Oslo Accords. I personally saw the cache, which included rocket propelled grenade launchers and anti-tank weapons. The most chilling of the weapons, however, was a suicide bomber's vest because sewn inside the black vest was webbing from which hung 20 straps. Those straps had small sections of plastic tubing filled with C4 explosives and ball bearings. This apparatus, designed to kill and maim, was perhaps the most evil thing I have ever seen.
In my judgment, the solution for a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians is a two-state solution. Indeed, the goal for the United States is to help ensure that Israel is secure, and that it engages in normal diplomatic relations with its neighbors. This must include a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Arafat, for his part, has lost his credibility. He is clearly not a trustworthy partner for the Israelis or the U.S. for further negotiations. Although it is not our place to pick a Palestinian leader, Washington has the right to set conditions and standards. No matter who leads the Palestinian people next, that individual must renounce terrorism in both word and deed, and fully recognize Israel's right to exist in peace as a Jewish state.
Such a leadership has yet to arise, in part, because those Palestinians who challenge the current leadership risk their lives to do so, in Arafat's brutal authoritarian state. Sadly, unless the Palestinians demand reform and rehabilitate their nascent country, peace will never be achieved.
There is no moral equivalency between the defensive actions of the Israelis and the terrorist actions taken by Palestinian militants. Israel is engaged in legitimate military action against combatants. Palestinian militants, however, are targeting civilians. Terrorism can, and never will be justified. We need to be tougher on the Palestinian leadership to prevent future attacks. We must also take a tougher stance with the so-called moderate Arab states (like Saudi Arabia and Egypt) that condone or sponsor Palestinian terrorism, and teach their children hate.
Summary account by Ira Stickler, research assistant at the Middle East Forum.