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[Editorial]

Arafatís last chance

States that sponsor terrorism must be held responsible

IN THE WAKE of the weekendís terrorist bombings in Israel, the United States should, at minimum, threaten to break off whatever "diplomatic" ties it has with Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat unless he takes real action against the terrorists operating within his territory. This can and must happen if President Bushís own standards against terrorist states are applied to whatís happening in the Middle East: this past weekend, 25 Israelis died and scores more were wounded in three separate attacks by suicide bombers in Jerusalem and Haifa. There is simply no justification for the violence.

It was encouraging to hear members of the Democratic Party, such as Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer of New York, place the onus squarely on Arafat. "The ... message must be sent to the Palestinian Authority and to Chairman Arafat," Clinton said. "Anyone who harbors or turns a blind eye to terror in their midst will be held accountable."

It was even more encouraging to hear White House spokesman Ari Fleischer say, in reply to a reporterís query about the White Houseís response to the Israeli counterattack that took place Monday (as if Fleischer were speaking about an attack on the United States): "Israel is a sovereign government [and] Israel has a right to live in security."

The statement represented a step away from the State Departmentís morally vacuous "Evenhandedness Doctrine," which has governed US diplomatic efforts in the Middle East. In essence, the doctrine dictates that whenever you say anything bad about the Palestinians, make sure to say something bad about the Israelis. Thatís why former senator George Mitchell returned from Israel and the Palestinian Authority last May complaining about both terrorism and Israeli settlements ó as if settlements are equivalent to suicide bombings. And itís why subsequent State Department minions have done likewise. Such evenhandedness ó some, like the New York Timesí Anthony Lewis, call it moral equivalence ó plays well in Europe and parts of the Arab world. But it doesnít work.

Thatís because each partyís acts are not equivalent. It may be misguided and even foolishly provocative for the Israelis to build houses on lands conquered in the 1967 war against the Arabs. But in no uncertain terms is it as reprehensible as killing young people buying a late-night ice-cream cone at a mall or eating a slice of pizza at Sbarro.

In fact, equating the two only encourages such violence. Given that everyone in the Middle East, including Palestinian terrorists, understands the dynamic by which American observers operate, the bomb attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa made perfect sense: the Palestinians would strike at innocent Israelis. The Israelis would inevitably launch some sort of counterattack ó as they did Monday, firing missiles at Arafatís Gaza headquarters, and Tuesday, firing missiles near Arafatís West Bank office ó and the Americans would condemn both sides. And thatís exactly what happened.

On Tuesday, during an international conference on terrorism held in Romania and attended by 55 states, Secretary of State Colin Powell, retreating from the harsh criticism of Arafat and the bombings that he had voiced on Sunday-morning TV, condemned the terrorist attacks and said Arafat must "do a lot more" to combat Palestinian terrorist groups. At the same time, however, in this other setting, he also cautioned Israel about the consequences of its actions. This is absurd. Israel was attacked by suicide bombers ó the most deadly terrorist attack in that country in years. Surely Israel, the regionís only democracy, acted within its rights to defend itself ó just as the United States is acting within its rights in waging a war against terrorism to defend itself.

In addition to holding Arafat directly responsible for these attacks, Arab nations must stop talking out of both sides of their mouths, saying that Israel has a right to exist when Western ears are listening, while condoning the vilest anti-Israel rhetoric at home. The same Arab nations whoíve pressured Bush into bringing Israel back to the negotiating table ó even as Arafatís intifada against Israel enters its 14th month ó must also influence Arafat to take action that would finally bring about the existence of a Palestinian state. That Arab pressure on Bush, namely from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt, paid off when Powell recently dispatched former Marine general Anthony Zinni to act as an observer of Middle East violence between the Palestinians and Israel. Arab thinking seems to be that if the US could act as an honest broker and send over an independent authority to observe the situation on the ground, then both parties could "get back to the negotiating table."

This thinking, while hopeful and optimistic, overlooks basic facts about peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. A little more than a year ago, during peace negotiations brokered by former president Bill Clinton at Camp David, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak offered Arafat a generous and sweeping peace deal. Though it was not exactly what Arafat wanted, he failed to negotiate further and simply rejected it, infamously saying to Clinton: "Do you want to attend my funeral?" If Arafat, who is, unfortunately, a political puppet for more powerful Middle Eastern forces, believed he would have the support of the Arab world in accepting the peace deal, he would have made the agreement. But he was told otherwise.

Shortly after those negotiations ended, Arafat launched the trumped up Al-Aksa, or Jerusalem, Intifada as a way to force the Israelis into further concessions. In fact, the same strategy was evident in the immediate aftermath of Saturdayís attacks when Saeb Erakat, Arafatís most pro-Western government advocate, along with Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian spokeswoman for the peace talks with Israel, spoke on CNN. "The only sane path now is ... for the Americans to introduce the timeline and the mechanisms to implement the Mitchell recommendations and deterrence plan immediately," Erakat said.

But to reward terrorist attacks with peace negotiations is insane. There can be no justification for acts of terror and no distinctions between the bomber who blows himself up in a mall and the political leader who lets terrorists train in his territory. Peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, not to mention the establishment of a Palestinian state, will only come once Arafat and his supporters ó or his successors ó are made to understand that terror cannot be permitted and will not be tolerated by either Israel or the United States.

What do you think? Send an e-mail to letters[a]phx.com

Issue Date: December 6 - 13, 2001

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