DeLay: 'Israel's Fight Is Our Fight'

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A truce by Palestinian militants is "paper thin" and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat must be further isolated if a new peace effort is to succeed, U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search) told Israeli lawmakers Wednesday.

DeLay, on a tour of the Middle East, repeated calls for Palestinians to disarm militant groups as required by the U.S.-backed "road map" plan for Middle East peace.

Speaking in a reception hall at the Knesset (search), Israel's parliament, DeLay said that liberating Israel from Palestinian violence is part of the worldwide campaign against terror.

Dismissing the truce called by main Palestinian groups a month ago, he said: "And it's a liberation we are determined to secure, not merely a paper-thin cease-fire."

Violence that has killed 2,421 people on the Palestinian side and 810 on the Israeli side in the last three years has declined sharply since the three-month truce was declared by the Islamic groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad on June 29. Arafat's Fatah movement declared a six-month cease-fire.

"Murderers who take 90-day vacations are still murderers," DeLay said.

Delay spoke a day after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met President Bush in Washington. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas saw Bush on Friday. Abbas has refused to order a crackdown on the militant groups, fearing a civil war, preferring agreements, like the truce, instead.

DeLay, an evangelical Christian, is one of a group of increasingly powerful "Christian Zionists" (search) who are staunch supporters of Israel and oppose uprooting Jewish settlers from the West Bank, where they believe Jews have a divine right.

He has long defended Israel's use of force against Palestinian militants, saying the Jewish state is acting in self-defense, and has been skeptical of the road map plan.

The peace plan calls on Israel to dismantle Jewish settlement outposts built without government authorization in Palestinian areas and to make other concessions in exchange for peace. By 2005, according to the plan, the Palestinians would have a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

DeLay said victory in a global war against terrorism hinges partly on the disarming and dismantling of Palestinian militant groups.

"Israel's fight is our fight. And so shall it be until the last terrorist on Earth is in a cell or a cemetery," DeLay said, drawing loud applause from the crowd of lawmakers and Cabinet ministers.

Palestinian lawmaker Saeb Erekat called DeLay's remarks "despicable and satanic."

"Our world is not divided between those who are pro-Israeli and those who are pro-Palestinian," Erekat said after hearing the text of DeLay's speech. "It is divided between those who are pro-peace and those who are against it, and DeLay truly deserves to head the camp of those who are against peace."

DeLay arrived in Israel on Monday, meeting Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and visiting a Jerusalem cafe rebuilt after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 11 people there in March 2002.

On Tuesday, he took a helicopter tour of the dividing line between Israel and the West Bank and saw the northern border with Lebanon. DeLay will travel on to Iraq, Jordan and Italy.

Speaking at the Knesset, DeLay said ordinary Palestinians were pawns of a corrupt, brutal leadership.

"Their enemy is Yasser Arafat," he said. "Their enemy is Hamas, Hezbollah and the vast network of violent men who threaten this region like so many desert scorpions."

While he belittled Arafat, DeLay praised his deputy, Mahmoud Abbas — also known as Abu Mazen — who became the first Palestinian prime minister in April after pressure from America and others.

"The onus now shifts to the rest of the world to take the ascension of Abu Mazen to its logical conclusion: Arafat must be isolated," DeLay said.

Israel has effectively banned Arafat from traveling since tanks and bulldozers began demolishing most of his headquarters compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah a year and a half ago. Since then, Arafat has stayed in an office building there.