- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Following the collapse of the U.S. road map for Middle East peace, the Bush administration, as it should be, seems more determined than ever to go after terrorist organizations like the Damascus-based Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Unfortunately, the administration has yet to demonstrate the same degree of energy in working to mobilize the international community (particularly the Arab world) to cut off funding for the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a shadowy terrorist group affiliated with Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization.

Given the facts — A) over the past three years, the Al Aqsa group has carried out several dozen suicide bombings against Israel; B) captured financial records show that Mr. Arafat has authorized payments to its members to subsidize the violence; and C) the State Department lists it as a Foreign Terrorist Organization — one would think that the administration would be eager right now to defund the group. Instead, its public stance thus far has been lethargic. Repeated calls yesterday to the State and Treasury Departments, asking what they are doing to cut off the Al Aqsa group, were not returned. If early press reports are any indication, Treasury Secretary John Snow, who arrived in Israel yesterday, may spend more time discussing the Israeli budget deficit than talking about defunding the Al Aqsa Brigades.

It’s long past time for Washington to challenge its allies to arrive at a plan for defunding Mr. Arafat’s terror network. The challenge is immense. On the positive side, the PA’s new finance minister, Salam Fayyad, was trying to clean up PA finances, cutting off much of Mr. Arafat’s cash flow for terror and political graft in the process. Mr. Arafat is worth an estimated $300 million, Forbes Magazine wrote earlier this year, and much of that money is hidden in Swiss banks. But the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported yesterday that, despite Mr. Fayyad’s efforts to reform the way the PA does business, little has changed. An Arafat loyalist — not Mr. Fayyad — controls every new appointment in the PA, including the security services, which have been implicated in scores of attacks on Israelis. Mr. Fayyad has been blocked from implementing a new civil service law, apparently by Mr. Arafat, who remains free to pack the bureaucracy with his henchmen.

For the sake of Mideast peace, the Bush administration needs to come up with a means to strip Mr. Arafat of the capability to finance his shadowy terrorist network.

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