June, 22 2001
With the announcement of US Secretary of State Colin Powell's upcoming visit to the region, America's investment in the Tenet and Mitchell plans is quickly deepening. Whether the US is setting itself up for a fall depends on a basic question: Will Powell ask Israel to let the killing continue, or will he demand full compliance from Yasser Arafat?
Fortunately, before Powell leaves for Israel, President George W. Bush will be hearing from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Washington. Sharon's message should be straightforward: Either you stop the violence or I do. The blood of the people of Homesh, or anywhere in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, is no different than that of the children who died in Tel Aviv. Arafat can stop it - he just won't.
There should be zero argument from the United States over the fact that Arafat is far from exercising his capabilities to end the violence. A flyer issued Wednesday by Arafat's own Fatah stated: "The settlers and the soldiers will not have one day of quiet. The military wing has no connection to the [Tenet] understandings... We will kill you at every intersection, in every street, among the rocks and the trees. All your defenses will not protect you." The Fatah flyer also confirms that Fatah murdered Danny Yehuda of Homesh and Doron Zisserman of Einav the day before.
In other words, the Bush administration should be learning that Arafat is making the same mockery of the cease-fire that it negotiated as the cease-fires negotiated by its predecessors. Arafat's idea of a cease-fire is to reduce the attacks within Israel proper, while declaring open season on Israelis in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. Yesterday, for good measure, the Palestinians fired a new, larger (140 mm) mortar on an IDF roadblock.
Today marks the end of the seven-day testing period of the cease-fire; Arafat has failed the test. Yet both Israel and the United States - like parents who say they are counting to three and keep going to three-and-a-half, etc. - are giving Arafat more time. The price of such indulgence will be paid in Israeli lives.
Rather than sending Powell, which Arafat will read as an opportunity to gain Israeli concessions for further reductions in his terrorism, the United States and Europe should have reiterated and strengthened the threats they made against Arafat immediately after the Dolphinarium attack on June 1. These threats, coupled with the threat of a harsh Israeli response, are what produced the existing partial cease-fire, and they are the key to producing a full cease-fire.
The Bush administration may think it is navigating between two whirlpools it does not want to fall into: asking Arafat to do "too much" and a massive Israeli military action with unpredictable consequences. In reality, the surest way to ensure a massive Israeli military strike is to fail to hold Arafat to a high enough standard. As long as Arafat reserves the right to engage in "selective terror," as Yediot Aharonot columnist Nachum Barnea called it, a massive Israeli response is not a matter of if, but when.
The proposed Powell mission begins with a strike already against it, because diplomats are not normally sent to read the riot act to one side, but to mediate between two sides. As Bush himself put it on Wednesday, "We are making enough progress" to warrant sending his top diplomat to urge "the parties... to break the cycle of violence." But the whole point of this cease-fire is there is no "cycle of violence" - there is Arafat's gangs killing Israelis. Furthermore, there is no reason for Arafat to stop his terrorism while the United States continues trying to look like a mediator rather than coming down squarely on Israel's side.
The only way around through the twin whirlpools the US is seeking to avoid is to quickly announce concrete measures to support Israel and concrete sanctions against Yasser Arafat. The most fundamental of these is a simple statement recognizing that Israel, like every other nation in the world, has the right of self-defense.
The irony of the current US stance is that, by acting as if restraining Israel is a pillar of US policy, the Bush administration is actually making a massive Israeli action more likely. The best chance to belatedly force Arafat to implement the Tenet plan is to make clear that the alternative is not pressuring Israel, but unleashing Israel. With Israelis being killed almost every day, the pressure is on Israel to shake off American restraint. With that American restraint removed, the pressure will be on Arafat to deliver quiet, and on Israel to give focused, one-sided international pressure on Arafat a chance.
©2001 - Jerusalem Post