New York Post
27, 2001 -- "IF they want us to stop our military operations,
they've just got to meet my conditions. And when I said no negotiations,
I meant no negotiations."
Bush made that firm statement last week once again demanding that Afghanistan's
ruling Taliban turn over Osama bin Laden.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been saying virtually the exact
same thing to Yasser Arafat for eight months. But Bush and British Prime
Minister Tony Blair are insisting that Sharon be the one who backs down.
When Sharon became prime minister in February, he vowed to force Arafat
to comply with the agreements he's been signing since 1993 - accords
that obligate the PLO leader to renounce the use of terrorism and to
actively hunt down and imprison terrorists operating under his rule.
The Bush administration initially praised Sharon's insistence that he
not return to the negotiating table until the year-long wave of Palestinian
murder and violence against Israel was halted. Vice President Dick Cheney
and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld even defended Israeli reprisals
in the wake of suicide bombings. The administration sent an unmistakable
that Arafat's failure to rein in terrorism and halt anti-Israeli violence
would cost him dearly.
All that changed on Sept. 11.
the interests of coalition-building in the Arab world, the State Department
started pushing Sharon to drop his firm demands and again sit down with
Arafat - this time, after strong declarations from Washington and London
that "a viable Palestinian state" awaits at the end of the
No wonder the diplomatic outreach to Arafat has dumbfounded Sharon -
prompting his controversial plea earlier this month that "the Western
democracies" not "appease the Arabs at our expense."
For all the firestorm here, Sharon's words prompted little criticism
in Israel - even from those who have traditionally opposed anything
he has to say.
Israelis remember all too well that - in the interests of holding together
the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein - they were forced to
surrender the right of self-defense and remain fearfully huddled in
sealed rooms while Iraqi Scud missiles rained down on Tel Aviv.
Now, they rightfully fear that they will again have to surrender their
basic right to defend themselves - in the interests of making the world
safe from terrorism. As a Jerusalem Post cartoon put it: "Before
Sept. 11, the world told us we were an impediment to peace. Now they
tell us we're an impediment
to war." But Israel has led the world in the struggle against terrorism.
Israelis have lived for decades with the day-to-day fear of sudden attacks,
so new to us.
decade before most Americans had even heard the name Saddam Hussein,
Israel not only warned of the danger, it sent warplanes to destroy his
nuclear reactor at Osirak.
Yet Israel's longtime expertise - and the undeniable fact that it is
the only Middle East nation firmly allied with the war against terrorism
- are seemingly shunted aside.
Britain and America - anxious to prove to the Arab world their "even-handedness"
- have done an abrupt about-face, withdrawing their previous backing
for Sharon's refusal to negotiate in the face of ongoing
Indeed, America condemns Israel for targeting the leaders of Hamas,
who are actively involved in planning suicide bombings against Israeli
civilians - even as Bush gives the OK for U.S. forces to take out the
head of the Taliban.
At the same time, America pushes Sharon to withdraw his demands and
return to the table - while promising Arafat statehood as his reward.
Was the aim to bring the Arab world into line? If so, it's failed: Even
"moderate" Arab states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia are resisting
cooperation with Washington.
Or was it to provoke Arafat into moderating his demands? That won't
work, either. For years now, every wave of pressure on Israel has only
emboldened Arafat to take a much harder line, refusing to make the slightest
is the time to reinvigorate this process," Blair recently said
with a beaming Arafat at his side. Yet for all the praise Blair heaped
on Arafat for trying to "control violent rejectionist groups within
the ranks of the Palestinian people," the PLO has refused to arrest
a single terrorist on Israel's most-wanted list.
Will Israel, after long sounding the alarm on terrorism, be forced to
back down and sit on its hands? And will those who have used violence
and mass murder as a political weapon against Israel be given tangible
diplomatic rewards for paying lip service to the anti-bin Laden coalition?
If so, then - in the words of the most misused phrase of the past month
- it will be a victory for terrorism.