Aaron Lerner Date: 6 August, 1998

Originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post of August 6, 1998

It's no surprise that two Israelis were murdered in a terrorist ambush on Tuesday night in Yitzhar. After all, the murderers were simply putting the Palestinian Authority's (PA) words into action.

And while Arafat's apologists will no doubt try to relate this to the stalled talks, the truth is that Arafat's call to Jihad is not new. He called for Jihad when he entered Gaza and he repeated the call when he reached the cities of the West Bank.

When Arafat publicly called to "burn the ground under the feet of the invaders," in the PA's semi-official Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda on April 16, 1998, it was not some sick poetic allusion. He meant every word. As Marwan Barghouti, the head of Fatah in the West Bank, calmly explains, the Palestinians have the right to attack settlements "because the settlement policy is terrorism. We have the right to fight against the terrorism."

Of course, the Oslo Accords explicitly provide for the security of the settlements. And even those who claim that the "spirit of Oslo" prohibits settlements expansion can't distort the text to allow attacks against existing ones.

"Extremists have demonstrated the real divisions today are not between Jews and Arabs, but between those stuck in the past and those who long for a better future; between those paralyzed by hatred and those energized by hope; those who stand with clenched fists and those who reach out with open hands. We cannot let the extremists prevail." So wrote US President Bill Clinton in his Israel Jubilee message to Hadassah.

Indeed. But unfortunately, the Clinton administration and the Israeli opposition parties, by turning a blind eye to Arafat's hatred and striking fists, have helped enable the extremists to prevail.

Arafat is himself an extremist. You can read the extremists' message of Jihad in the PA's school books and view them on the PA's own television broadcasts aimed at inculcating the "value" of Jihad to a new generation of Palestinian youth.

The supporters of Oslo doomed it to failure when they cynically decided to avoid serious criticism of Arafat at all costs.

The situation is so absurd that opposition leader Ehud Barak refuses to say if the Palestinians are fulfilling their obligations under the Oslo Agreements on the grounds that he is not managing the negotiations. Of course, that doesn't inhibit him from going to Washington to criticize the Israeli government.

The Israeli public doesn't buy this. A Gallup Poll commissioned recently by IMRA found that only 29 percent of Israeli Jews accept Barak's explanation for his silence.

Overall, the Israeli public is distressed by Arafat's behavior. Last Wednesday's "Peace Index" survey of Israeli Jews for the Tami Steinmentz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University found that less than 26 percent believe Arafat is more a statesman than a terrorist.

Yesterday Prime Minister Netanyahu called for expanding Yitzhar as a Zionist response to the ruthless murder Tuesday night. But this should only be the first step.

There should be no rewards for violence. Almost two years ago Arafat's men orchestrated the burning of the Joseph's Tomb complex in Nablus. As NRP MK Hanan Porat noted yesterday, Israel has the right to restore the complex and the funds have been approved. Repairs should begin at once.

Balance must be restored.

Minister of Transportation Shaul Yahalom's call to freeze the withdrawal talks until the murderers of Harel Bin-Nun and Shlomo Leibman are brought to Israeli justice should be taken seriously.

Long ago Arafat frittered away whatever credit he may have earned by signing the Declaration of Principles back in 1993. Arafat has made terrorism against Jews an intimate part of the Palestinian life cycle - from the kindergarten songs to the celebration of Jihad martyrs.

Handing over the murderers to Israeli justice would send a clear message that Arafat is both willing and able to live in peace.

As for the current negotiations, Netanyahu has indicated that he rejects the Clinton administration's cynical "land for committees" approach. The Israeli public shares his skepticism. A Gallup poll commissioned two nights ago by IMRA found that only 30 percent believe the committees proposed by the Clinton administration would actually insure Palestinian compliance after a withdrawal.

The public supports a strong position in the withdrawal negotiations. Last week's "Peace Index" found only a third of those polled supporting a weaker stance and over 52 percent wanting Netanyahu to take an even harder position in the talks with the Palestinians.

That's not to say that Israel should not take "risks for peace." Israel takes them ever day. In point of fact, just a few weeks ago Netanyahu willingly gambled his own political future when he refused to send Palestinian workers home in response to threats of a new wave of terrorist bombings.

With a steadfast approach the murderous attack at Yitzhar can be used to turn around Palestinian-Israeli relations. The Israeli public is ready. We will know in the coming days if our prime minister is up to the challenge.

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