Jewish World Review August 21, 2001 / 2 Elul 5761
Bush has been calling on Arafat to "do a lot more" to stop terrorism, but administration policy lacks any sense of "or else."
On occasion, Bush and Vice President Cheney have indicated they sympathize with Israel's effort to pre-empt terrorist attacks, even by assassinating militant leaders, and to punish Arafat's Palestinian Authority following acts of violence.
At other times, though, pronouncements by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Bush make it seem that the administration considers Arafat and Israel's government equally responsible for the absence of peace.
It's not clear whether this is a good cop-bad cop act designed to appease both Jewish voters in the United States and oil-rich Persian Gulf Arabs, the product of a fundamental split within the administration -- or evidence of confusion. This week, in the wake of the latest suicide bombings at a pizzeria in Jerusalem and a cafe in Haifa, Bush rather impotently declared, "There's nothing that an administration can do if there's no will for peace."
Au contraire. The administration can begin by saying consistently that Arafat is fundamentally responsible for the violence and that sanctions are on the way.
Among the steps suggested by members of Congress are placing Arafat's security services on the State Department's terrorist list, downgrading the diplomatic status of the Palestinian mission in Washington, and cutting off non-humanitarian aid to the West Bank and Gaza. Such sanctions, subject to presidential waiver, are part of a foreign aid bill passed by the House and headed for Senate hearings in September.
Arafat deserves to be penalized for releasing from jail leaders of the chief terrorist groups claiming credit for suicide bombings, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Rather than rearresting them, Arafat is in the process of negotiating with the terrorists to have them join his government. Arafat himself has sent statements of praise to the families of suicide bombers. Moreover, the Tanzim and Force 17, two security services affiliated with Arafat's Fatah party, have been directly involved in attacks on Israeli targets.
Arafat has agreed on numerous occasions -- the latest in connection with the peace agreement negotiated earlier this year by CIA Director George Tenet -- to crack down on those responsible for violence.
Yet he hasn't done a thing beyond issue occasional condemnations of especially egregious acts of terrorism. Meantime, media outlets controlled by the Palestinian Authority spew a constant message of violence against Israelis.
The Friday, Aug. 3, sermon given by Sheik Ibrahim Madhi at the Sheik Ijlin Mosque in Gaza and broadcast on the Palestinian Authority's television station, for example, declared, "Blessings to whoever saved a bullet to stick it in a Jew's head."
The sermon continued, according to a transcript from the Middle East Media Research Institute, "Whoever can fight the Jews with his weapons should go out to the battle; whoever can fight them with a machine gun, should go out; whoever can fight them with ... his hands, should go out. Nothing will deter the Jews except the color of their filthy people's blood."
The fact is that, even when Arafat was ostensibly negotiating peace with Israel, no effort was made to prepare the Palestinian population to accept less than the elimination of the Jewish state.
When former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Arafat more than 90-percent control of the occupied West Bank, partial governance of Jerusalem and recognition of an independent Palestinian State, Arafat rejected the deal and unleashed a wave of violence against Israel.
In hindsight, there's reason to wonder whether Arafat ever intended to reach a true peace with Israel, or simply to gain as much territory as he could in order to resume his lifelong armed struggle.
The collapse of the peace process has led Barak to call for building a security wall hundreds of miles long to separate Jews and Palestinians, while keeping open an offer to negotiate with some future Palestinian leader.
The more hawkish-minded suggest going beyond that step, declaring all the fruits of the peace process null and void, and calling for the attack and destruction of the Palestinian Authority's infrastructure, even driving Arafat himself back into exile.
Barak's successor as prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has adopted no discernable long-range policy, but instead has offered to resume negotiations if Arafat will bring violence to a halt while attacking targets linked to terrorism.
Sharon evidently hopes there is a finite number of young men in Palestine willing to blow themselves up and that hardships suffered by the Palestinian population will bring its leaders to reason.
But that hope may be a vain one. Terrorism and Israeli reprisals could well lead to all-out war, which U.S. allies in the Arab world might feel it necessary to support or even join, raising the specter of a break with the United States.
The bottom line is, Bush can't afford to conclude there's nothing he can do. At a minimum, he should support legislation to punish Arafat, making it clear that his administration speaks with one voice on who's to blame for Middle East violence.