In between yesterday morning's car bombing in Jerusalem's busy Talpiot industrial and shopping area and the afternoon's suicide-bomber attack in the capital's French Hill neighborhood, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan calmly said the world has every right to criticize Israel for occupying Arab land and for its "excessively harsh response" to the Palestinian uprising.
Speaking at the opening meeting of the Arab League summit in Amman, Annan said: "Blockades and closures have paralyzed the Palestinian economy, isolated the West Bank and Gaza, and prevented the delivery of medicine, food, and fuel. Collective punishment has cast a pall of anger and despair over the already tense occupied territories." The UN leader also insisted that there "is no solution to be found in violence, and no sense in postponing the day when the parties return to the [negotiating] table."
Interestingly, Annan thought it of no importance to tell the esteemed Arab gathering that the deliberate murder of a 10-month-old baby by sniper fire or the steering of a speeding bus into a crowd of soldiers and pedestrians waiting for a ride to work also did little to promote the cause of peace. Nor did the world statesman see fit to point out that the Palestinian decision to resort to violence, after the failure of last summer's Camp David talks, was hardly the way to win over Israeli confidence in the trustworthiness of the Palestinian Authority as a partner for peace.
In failing to raise these unpleasant truths at the first regular meeting of the Arab world following the Gulf War of a decade ago, Annan missed an opportunity to inject some realism into the summit's discussions. (To give an example of the flights of fancy receiving a respectful hearing at the summit, consider these remarks by the supposedly modern Syrian ruler, Bashar Assad, who told the assembled leaders that by voting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon into power, Israel had proved itself to be "a racist society, a society more racist than the Nazis.") By simply going along with the prevalent tone of Arab rhetoric, the UN leader has not only achieved nothing, he has actively hindered his stated desire: to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table.
Annan must surely know, even if just from reading newspaper reports of Sharon's visit to the United States last week, that Israel has made it perfectly clear it will not hold negotiations with the Palestinians as long as the PA continues to encourage terrorism. Moreover, the Sharon government has taken a series of steps in recent days to ease the economic conditions in the territories, only to be met with bullets and bombs. The minute last week's closure on Bethlehem was lifted, for example, Baruch Cohen was murdered in a drive-by shooting as he made his way to work in Jerusalem from his home in Efrat.
Yesterday's two terror attacks, and the cold-blooded murder of infant Shalhevet Pass in Hebron on Monday, were clearly linked to Palestinian desires to provide an escalation of violence on the eve of the Arab summit, in the hope of provoking an Israeli response which would then result in further sympathy for the Palestinians. Much to their surprise, and the dismay of some of his supporters, Sharon has so far not taken the bait. The prime minister, sensibly, is insisting that Israel will react in the time and place of its choosing and not be drawn into a tit-for-tat exchange with the Palestinians, an exchange that carries with it the danger of escalating out of control.
At the same time, Sharon was elected on a promise to restore a sense of security to Israel's citizens and he will not be able to avoid taking any action for much longer. There is no simple remedy for the fight against terror - if there were, Israel would have already used it - but simply standing still in the face of exploding bombs is no solution either. In the past, Sharon has pledged to single out those responsible for attacks against Israel while allowing the mass of innocent Palestinians to go about their daily lives free of Israeli restraint. Now is the moment to implement this policy.
©2001 - Jerusalem Post