- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2001

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's landslide victory on Tuesday was greeted by some in the Arab world as a rallying cry for war. Though the Israeli people sent a clear message to Ehud Barak and the world that they are tired of having their homes, security, precious resources and holy sites threatened by their former leader's endless concessions to the Palestinians, their vote was one for peace. It was not a vote for extremism. It was a vote against a man who was unable to bring a cessation to violence and to threats to their national security and sovereignty. The Bush administration was right to take this moment to declare its commitment to Israel and to the peace process, and should actively ensure this partnership is strengthened in the first months of Mr. Sharon's administration.

He will need all the help he can get. Saddam Hussein said yesterday that he is forming an army to liberate Palestine from Israeli rule. Iraq had also announced earlier that 6.5 million volunteers had been rallied for a holy war. Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath warned of a "bloody confrontation" if Mr. Sharon fails to respect peace accords, and hundreds of Palestinian refugees burned the effigy of Mr. Sharon. In this time of vulnerability and uncertainty, the United States must put pressure on the Arab world to refrain from violence, and to make clear it will back Israel's determination to protect its sovereignty.

The United States can also persuade both sides that the time is now for the real bargaining to begin at the peace table. After all, in Mr. Barak, Mr. Arafat found a man too willing to be pushed around. In Mr. Sharon, Mr. Arafat finds a man unlikely to be so meek. In the 1948 war, Mr. Arafat was a teen-age gunrunner, Mr. Sharon had just done combat with the Jewish militia Haganah. Mr. Sharon has tried to kill Mr. Arafat around a dozen times, and failed. Mr. Arafat has tried to take Israeli land whether through negotiations or combat almost as often with little success.

In a study conducted by the Steinmetz Center of Tel Aviv University, 68 percent of the Israeli public believed that in order to reach a peace agreement, a less conciliatory approach should be used with the Palestinians. Israelis had put their hope in compromises. Now they are turning to the only alternative.

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