Gaza City…
Mohammed “Abul” Abbas – the most wanted man in the world 13 years ago after masterminding the Achille Lauro hijacking now holds court in the offices of the Palestine Liberation Front, the small organization he leads here with the permission of Yasser Arafat…. Abbas now says the Achille Lauro was a “mistake.” He says his men had only intended to use the Italian luxury liner to slip into Israel, not commandeer it. But, he adds, their cover was blown when a crew member saw them cleaning their weapons.

When asked why Klinghoffer was killed, he replies: “He created troubles. He was handicapped but he was inciting and provoking the other passengers. So the decision was made to kill him.”

… Despite his 30 years… bent on destroying the state of Israel, Abbas was permitted by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to return from exile to the Palestinian-controlled area this spring.

And the United State has dropped its efforts to extradite Abbas for his role in the murder of Klinghoffer.

How Abbas was allowed to enter Israel’s borders, without objections from the United States, offers a glimpse into the wrenching compromises required to make peace in the Middle East. His high profile in Gaza has infuriated the Klinghoffer family and prompted a petition to Israel’s high court for his extradition. Some critics feel it renders hollow Netanyahu’s podium-pounding tirades against terrorists.

… He says he was 13 days old in 1948 when his family fled Haifa for a refugee camp in Lebanon. When the Palestine Liberation Organization launched its armed struggle in 1964, Abbas became one of its youngest recruits. In 1968, he was in Vietnam fighting alongside the Viet Cong against US forces and learning guerrilla tactics.

By 1970, he was putting those skills to work. He planned an attack – the first of its kind – firing a Katyusha rocket into Israel from Lebanon. It struck a school bus and killed 11 children.

… Despite angry protests from the United States, Italy allowed him to flee before a US warrant for piracy and kidnapping could be served. Abbas disappeared, despite worldwide manhunts and a $250,000 price on his head…. Abbas surfaced for the first time in April 1996. He claimed to have embraced the peace process and was allowed to enter Israel for a meeting of the Palestine National Council, where he voted in favor of revoking those parts of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s charter that called for the destruction of Israel…. the Netanyahu administration permitted Abbas to reenter Israel again last month. Netanyahu’s senior adviser, David Bar-Illan, tries to evade criticism by pointing out that it was the… government of Shimon Peres that approved Abbas’s initial entry in 1996 for the Palestine National Council meeting…. According to the Oslo accords, any Palestinian whose entry is approved by Israel will not be prosecuted for crimes committed prior to the signing of the agreement in 1993. “… I’m as puzzled by it as anybody. It’s very difficult to rationalize,” concedes Bar-Illan. “But we have to live by it. The political process sometimes overrides the theory on terrorism. It is quite difficult, admittedly.”

Ron Tarassian, who leads a right-wing group, Our Jerusalem, fumes that Abbas is sitting in Gaza. “It’s despicable that the Israeli government let him in,” he says.

Tarassian, Rabbi Avi Weiss, an American right-wing activist, and Dov Hikind, a New York assemblyman, have petitioned the Israeli High Court demanding Abbas’s arrest and extradition. The court referred the case to a panel of three judges, a move that indicates the petition is being taken seriously.

But efforts to bring Abbas to justice have gone nowhere. Italy has made no efforts to extradite him, and the US Justice Department claims it has no grounds to seek his extradition because there is no outstanding warrant against him. The American warrants were dropped after his conviction in Italy.

Last August, the PLO settled a lawsuit with the Klinghoffer family and the tour operator of the hijacked luxury liner for an undisclosed sum. Abbas says he would like to go to America to apologize to the family.

… The Klinghoffer family remains outraged that Abbas is free to live in Gaza. Jay Fischer, a family lawyer, says: “My clients are deeply upset…. Any force of law that can bring him to justice should be carried out.”