Israel Under Siege


Responding to terrorist attacks and attending funerals are the two most dreadful public duties elected officials are called upon to perform. For the mayors of many Israeli cities they have also become a routine part of our work.

For those of us in Jerusalem, this week began as tragically as the last. First, on Saturday, March 2, we witnessed the terrorist bombing outside a synagogue in Jerusalem, as the Jewish Sabbath drew to a close. Then, barely had the city been granted a moment's grace to recover from its shock, bury the dead and conclude its mourning rituals before the senseless carnage, this time in the crowded Moment Caf? on Saturday, began the now-familiar rites anew.

Diplomacy by Ambulance

As Vice President Cheney now travels throughout the region building support for America's expanding war on terror, our Palestinian peace partners seem intent on escalating their campaign to reduce the daily lives of Israelis to an unremitting stream of ambulance sirens, shattered bodies and funerals.

As I responded to Saturday night's bomb blast scene, I thought of the other funerals I attended last week, a total of five in the course of three days. On Sunday, March 3, I had been asked to eulogize an entire Jerusalem family, a mother, father and two small children. Their only mistake was standing in the street outside a family bar mitzvah celebration when a suicide bomber walked up next to them and detonated himself.

Then this Saturday night, another Palestinian bomber successfully blew up an entire coffee bar full of twentysomething patrons. As I arrived at the Moment Caf? the ambulances were evacuating the bodies of a young engaged couple who now would never attend their wedding, planned for May 15.

This is the reality Mr. Cheney will find in the Middle East and it is the logical conclusion of the disastrously ill-conceived Oslo Accords. That reckless process revitalized a vanquished Yasser Arafat and brought tens of thousands of armed guerillas into the administered territories from PLO bases around the globe. Once widely demonized as Saddam Hussein's closest ally during the Gulf War, Mr. Arafat has managed to acquire a sheen of legitimacy even as he personally directs the violence against Israel.

No doubt that as Mr. Cheney is treated to endless cups of strong coffee in Middle- Eastern capitals, he will be plied with demands that the United States pressure Israel for concessions. As they have done since the beginning of this long conflict, our neighboring kings and dictators will spin yarns portraying the region's only democratic nation as an aggressor, and alleging that U.S. support for the Jewish state is the source of anti-American sentiments.

Along with their dismal records on human rights and their regimes' outlawing of free speech, Mr. Cheney will be encouraged to overlook the fact that virtually all the rhetoric turning the Arab streets against the U.S. is being pumped out by state-controlled media. Indeed, the Arab world's support for Palestinian terrorist organizations has not diminished even in the wake of Sept. 11.

The U.S. must act in its own self-interest, of course, but it must also recognize Israel's need to continue to carry out policies to safeguard its citizens. The unprecedented waves of suicide bombings which have engulfed us in recent months have required Israel's security services to continuously rethink the methods they employ in meeting the new challenges of protecting the public's safety.

Facing the tireless terrorist organizations that have spent the last eight years smuggling illegal weapons and explosives in for use against Israeli civilians requires unrelenting vigilance. And yet nothing can guarantee that our law enforcement agencies will be successful each and every time a suicide bomber sets out for a downtown cafe. The Palestinians have turned too many of their homes and communities into terrorist laboratories and launch pads. Nothing short of the comprehensive confiscation of weapons and arrests of the terrorist leaders would thwart the danger that menaces us.

At a time when we are under such serious attack, when our streets and markets have been turned into battle fronts, and no neighborhood in the country feels entirely secure, we can only develop a thicker skin in response to the daily reprimands and criticisms from both our allies and enemies. Either by negligence or design, the world community seeks to weaken our resolve by repeatedly comparing our legitimate acts of self-defense with the terrorism we are struggling against. It is a frustrating double standard that causes foreign diplomats to spend countless hours complaining about each of Israel's alleged infractions while refusing to even once take sanctions against Mr. Arafat for his documented role in the terror.

Those who sincerely seek a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should set about demanding that Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian leadership answer some of the hard questions they have evaded for the more than eight years that the Palestinian Authority has been in existence. Mr. Cheney might ask how, for example, such enormous quantities of terrorist weapons and explosives, like those that have devastated Jerusalem in recent days, have been illegally stockpiled inside the Palestinian Authority.

There are other mysteries worth exploring with Mr. Arafat and other Middle East leaders as well. Who is behind the manufacturing of the Kessem missiles that have begun to rain down upon us? How are Hamas and Islamic Jihad permitted to maintain offices and training bases inside the Palestinian Authority? Why are so many members of Mr. Arafat's Fatah faction engaging in suicide attacks?

The red line maintained by every civilized society is repeatedly and intentionally crossed by the Palestinians. The terrorists continue to target wedding halls, pizza places, cafes and schools with ghastly results. As I stood, this past Saturday night, in the midst of the shattered remains of the trendy Moment Caf?, I shuddered at the thought of a people that believes this sort of destruction is a legitimate path to statehood. I agonized, too, over the sickening reality of leaders who send youngsters out with belts of explosives and nails, and then proudly claim responsibility for the attack.

With these Palestinian partners, how can Israel be expected to negotiate peace?

A Naive Belief

In the years that followed the Six-Day War until quite recently, Israel's ever-optimistic political left promoted the naive belief that compromises by both sides of the conflict could lead to a lasting political accommodation. They adopted and popularized the slogan of "Give Peace A Chance."

With great risks and disastrous results, we did just that. For the eight and a half years of the Palestinian Authority's existence, we gave Mr. Arafat a chance. The gamble killed many Israeli citizens and Palestinians, and it left too many families grieving. Now Israel must prepare itself for what comes next.

Mr. Olmert is the mayor of Jerusalem.

Updated March 14, 2002