As expected, another massacre.
One moment, 19 people, some of them children on the way to school, are sitting on a bus.
In the next, their bodies lie in black plastic bags on the sidewalk, in front of the prime minister of Israel and a crowd from the international media.
The security forces worked heroically to prevent this atrocity, but it is not just the lack of a fence that allowed it to happen. What allowed it to happen is the tolerance of the world for murdering Israelis, which Israel has allowed to prevent it from using the force it has to crush terrorism.
After the last horrific massacre Israel did not really react, because Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was on his way to Washington. This time Israel will not really react either - because US President George W. Bush is about to give a major speech on the Middle East. Next week Secretary of State Colin Powell's upcoming visit will be a reason for restraint. And so on.
According to Channel 1 defense analyst Ron Ben-Yishai, there will be no break in this pattern unless there is a "mega" attack or a string of bombings such as occurred in March. In other words, yesterday's toll of 19 dead and over 50 wounded lies within the de facto "acceptable" range - a lump that Israel must take, because any decisive reaction would cost it too much diplomatically.
This is an intolerable situation, analogous in some ways to the weeks before the Six Day War, 35 years ago. Unlike that fearsome time, Arab armies are not poised to annihilate Israel. But like then, Israel tried for weeks to implore the international community to solve an intolerable problem. Then, it was the blockade of the Straits of Tiran, which the international community pledged to bust with a convoy of ships, but did not. Today, it is the Palestinian terror offensive, which the international community condemns, but does virtually nothing to stop.
Let there be no mistake: The United States and Europe could force Yasser Arafat to end his offensive by cutting off all ties and money until he does so. The United States has not chosen to do this, in large part because the Israeli government has not, with a united voice, asked the US to do so. Europe, far from cutting off Arafat, has threatened Israel with sanctions.
Given this situation, Israel has two choices: issuing an unmistakable ultimatum to the international community saying "either you stop Arafat or we will" - or assuming that such an ultimatum is futile and acting accordingly. Instead, we are pursuing a third option: neither presenting the international community with an ultimatum nor acting decisively ourselves.
This third option - waiting for the Palestinians to reach new heights of murder - is not acceptable. It is tantamount to resigning ourselves to more massacres, when we know that whenever Israel finally acts, the world will act to restrain and reverse Israeli actions. But if no number of dead Israelis really convinces the world that Israel has a right to defend itself, then what are we waiting for? Sharon has tried to play along with Bush's respectful attentions to the concerns of Arab states to an extraordinary degree. Before leaving for Washington last time, he let it be known that he would be asking for Arafat's ouster, let alone receiving American support along those lines.
Sharon has had two good reasons for indulging Bush, aside from the usual components of the US-Israel relationship. The first reason is that Bush is gearing up to oust Saddam Hussein, and Sharon wants to help Bush in any way to achieve this goal, even if he believes the US is mistakenly linking a need for Middle East calm to acting in Iraq. Second, Sharon knows that Bush would be almost as happy as he would be to see Arafat go, and therefore is willing to follow Bush's timetable rather than his own.
The only problem with Sharon's patience and prudence in this instance is the cost in Israeli lives and the further erosion of Israel's right to defend itself. There comes a point at which Sharon must say to Bush (and to the Labor Party), "I've tried it your way, but it is not working." There comes a point when he must say, "You are not only asking me to sacrifice Israeli lives, but this sacrifice does not help you prepare to act in Iraq, because it only encourages further Palestinian attacks." There comes a point for Israel to say enough is enough.
©2002 - Jerusalem Post