JERUSALEM (AP) -- Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson on Tuesday spoke strongly in support of a highly criticized Israeli policy of targeting and killing Palestinian militants.
On a short visit to Israel, where he met leaders and broadcast programs to his television network in the United States, Robertson disagreed sharply with the U.S. State Department's criticism of Israel's policy, restated most recently on Monday.
On Sunday, an Israeli helicopter fired rockets at a car in the West Bank, killing three activists in the militant Islamic Jihad. Israel said they were planning terror attacks.
Palestinians say Israel has killed 24 militants in 19 attacks since November. Israel acknowledged some of the attacks and refused to comment on others.
Robertson said Israel's actions are justified. "I am absolutely in support of an Israeli policy that says, we think surgical strikes of a military nature against the architects of terror are more appropriate than harming innocent civilians who are not responsible for the terror," he told a news conference.
Robertson chided the U.S. and others for criticizing Israel. "Nations of the world must understand that Israel is not a ward of the United Nations and is not a ward of the United States, and its policies must reflect the best interests of Israel," he said.
The Christian leader, who heads a business and broadcast empire, said that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is responsible for nine months of conflict here. After interviewing Arafat twice in the past, Robertson said the Palestinian leader talks of peace in English, but in speeches in Arabic to his people, he urges them to fight to destroy the Jewish state.
"He no longer should be considered a legitimate partner for Israel," he said. "It is incumbent on them (Palestinians) to choose a leader who is responsible and not dedicated to terror," Robertson said.
Robertson said he is encouraging his followers to visit Israel. "They should be encouraged to not allow terror succeed by choking off ... tourism," he said, adding, "It's probably no more dangerous to be in Jerusalem than it is to be in New York City."
Mideast violence has cut sharply into tourism to Israel. Hotels are operating at a fraction of their capacity. Some Jewish groups have canceled trips and missions because of the fighting.
Robertson noted that he was touring Israel with his wife, a "statement to the American Christian community that it is safe in Israel to come and visit the holy sites and to travel in this nation."