Palestinian Death Sentences Symbolize a Return to Arafat

On the eve of former U.S. Senator George Mitchell's mission to Israel as U.S. envoy in the aftermath of Israel's recent anti-terror Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, a Palestinian Authority military court in Hebron sentenced a former member of the Palestinian Authority presidential security service, Force 17, to death for the crime of collaborating with Israel in anti-terror operations.

In two other instances, in April and July of 2008, a Palestinian Authority court in Jenin sentenced three other Palestinian-Arabs to death for collaborating with Israel as well. According to Human Rights Watch, Palestinian Authority courts have sentenced at least 11 Palestinian-Arabs to death in 2008 alone.

Thus, far from fulfilling its obligations to fight terror of its own accord or by cooperating with Israel, the Palestinian Authority punishes, in the worst way possible, those who do.

The courts' verdicts recall the extremist policies of the Palestinian Authority once practiced under terror-chief Yasser Arafat. Between 1994 and 2005 (Arafat died in November of 2004), the Palestinian Authority issued 74 death sentences. And this is aside from the numerous other human rights violations under his rule.

The issuing of the verdicts by courts of the supposedly moderate Fatah-run side of the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria (the "West Bank") also parallel those currently practiced by the Hamas-run side of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza.  In July, a Hamas-run Palestinian Authority court in Gaza sentenced a Palestinian-Arab to death for informing Israel of the whereabouts of Palestinian terrorists, later killed by the I.D.F. In fact, during Israel's recent operation in Gaza, Hamas executed over 19 Palestinians and brutally tortured and maimed over 60 others whom Hamas suspected of collaboration with Israel. Just as Israel ceased its operations in Gaza and withdrew its forces Hamas said that its first order of business would be to round up collaborators.

In order to be carried-out, death sentences issued by Palestinian Authority courts must be approved by the Palestinian Authority President, currently Mahmaoud Abbas. The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, an Israeli civil rights and government reform group, wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday, urging them to pressure Abbas not to give his approval.

"It is your moral obligation," Legal Forum Director Nachi Eyal wrote, "to clarify to [Abbas] that approving the sentence will have a grave meaning from Israel's point of view."

The section of the penal code of the Palestinian Authority which contains the death penalty dates back to 1979, when the Authority was still the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a recognized terrorist group led by Arafat which hijacked airplanes, threw a wheelchair-bound American citizen off the side of a boat into the ocean, killed Israeli athletes in Munich and committed scores of other horrific and murderous acts.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, in a press release regarding the death sentence, argued that the Palestinian Authority's use of the death penalty constituted a violation of international law and called on the Palestinian Authority to enact a "penal code that conforms to the spirit of international human rights instruments."

Before newly inaugurated President Barack Obama and his envoy Senator Mitchell even consider asking Israel to make security concessions which will undoubtedly enable terrorists to attack Israeli civilians and use rockets to shut down entire Israeli cities, they must demand an end to the obvious cause of violence - the official approval of terrorism and anti-Israelism and corresponding condemnation of helping Israel fight terrorism.

More than asking Abbas to merely not approve death sentences, the U.S. must demand that Abbas pardon the men and remove sections of the Palestinian Authority penal code which criminalize fighting terror in collaboration with Israel. Anything less would leave those convicted with a court approved stigma of evil for doing what the United States has been demanding for years and would serve as a deterrent to those who would otherwise assist Israel in the future.

Over the last 8 years, U.S. aid to the Palestinians totaled almost $2.3 billion, hundreds of millions of which went directly to the Palestinian Authority. Ultimately, and more to the root of the problem, the U.S. must seriously reconsider its funding of an organization which executes people for fighting terror in "collaboration" with Israel, names stadiums after homicide bombers or riflemen who target women and children, uses textbooks to promote anti-Semitism to school children, and whose constituency fired rifles in the air in celebration of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

As former Republican Presidential Candidate Senator John McCain said over and over during the presidential campaign, its time we stopped sending billions of dollars to people who don't like us very much. This includes - perhaps more than any other entity which currently receives U.S. aid - the Palestinian Authority.

Eyal made a similar point in his letter to Olmert and Barak: not only does the execution of collaborators with Israel symbolize a "return to the uncivilized norms that typified the rule of Yasser Arafat," but it "shows that whoever trusts the PA and gives it weapons and armored cars is behaving irresponsibly."