Opinion: Clinton's Gift to Arafat

by Cal Thomas

While a debate rages over whether Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein should be toppled, it appears the Clinton administration is doing all it can to oust the elected leader of Israel, PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

Amid reports that President Clinton is "frustrated" by the lack of progress toward a peace settlement, the administration has reverted to a familiar scenario: blame the Israelis, or at least those Israelis who don't speak the words our diplomats write for them, or adopt the policies the White House thinks they should. Having failed in its barely disguised efforts to elect Shimon Peres as the successor to the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the Clinton administration seems to be in overdrive in hopes of undermining the Likud government and forcing Mr Netanyahu from power.

Last week during a meeting with Leah Rabin (the widow of the assassinated prime minister) and Mr Peres at the White House, an "Israeli source" was widely quoted as saying that President Clinton had sharply criticized Mr Netanyahu. Israeli Television reporter Ehud Yaari said that source was Mr Peres. Mr Yaari reported that Mr Clinton had told Mr Peres that the prime minister broke his promise to stop building houses in the Yesha communities of Israel. Halting construction on land that Israel continues to claim as its own is not part of the Oslo peace accords, though Secretary of State Madeleine Albright continues to insist it is.

Far from "undermining peace," Mr Netanyahu is attempting to do what he was elected to do. By their votes for him, a majority of Israelis demonstrated that the previous Labour government had seriously erred in its dealings with Palestine Liberation Organisation leader Yasser Arafat, which included arming of Palestinian policemen and, in effect, establishing sanctuaries for terrorists. When those policies resulted in new violence against Israelis, Mr Netanyahu was unfairly blamed by the Israeli left and the US State Department that mistakenly believes peace can be won only by Israel's actions.

While Mr Netanyahu's government has lived up to the Oslo accords, even though as a candidate he opposed them, the Palestinian Authority has not. The PA has failed to extradite terrorists known to have murdered Israelis. It has failed to disarm all of the illegal militias, such as Hamas, and it has not stopped funding terrorist organisations that now operate openly and vow to continue their lethal activities.

Mr Netanyahu has proposed that the second troop withdrawal required by Oslo transfer between six and eight per cent of the West Bank to the PA. But he wants to make it contingent on the cessation of terrorism and not relinquish any additional land until the conclusion of final status talks and a genuine PA crackdown (instead of unkept promises) on terrorism. How can anyone oppose reciprocity? Why should Israel, and Israel alone, be expected to give and give but never get, when the getting is about securing the future of its people?

Last January, the State Department's Middle East negotiator, Dennis Ross, endorsed a "Note for the Record" in which he required immediate Palestinian action not only to fight terror but also to amend the Palestinian Charter (calling for Israel's destruction), reduce the size of the PA's armed forces and remove illegal PA institutions and activities from Israeli areas, including Jerusalem. None of this has been done. Still, the Clinton administration pressures Israel and accepts empty promises from the PA.

Frustrated by its display of weakness in dealing with Saddam Hussein, the administration appears to be undermining the only democratically elected government in the Middle East. This is an outrage. Israel cannot and should not be moved by such pressure. In view of the pressure on his enemy, why should Mr Arafat give in on anything?

In an opinion column for The Jerusalem Post, Chaim Seiden, director of the Centre for Political Policy, writes: "It takes unusual courage to withstand a never-ending assault by the media, by the opposition and even by some of his colleagues as Netanyahu has done." The prime minister of Israel has demonstrated far more of this character trait than has the president of the United States.

Cal Thomas is a nationally-syndicated US columnist.

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