- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2001

One would think Secretary of State Colin Powell deemed Israel his own private playground, and those attacking its sovereignty his playmates. He gave Israel his harshest rebuke yet on Tuesday when he called an Israeli takeover of a piece of land on the Gaza Strip "excessive and disproportionate." A few hours later, the Israeli forces moved out. By putting the onus for the renewed violence on the Israelis, Mr. Powell was playing into the hands of the Palestinians, and their supporters in the Arab world.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his military were responding to an assault by the Islamic militant group Hamas. This strike was the deepest attack inside Israel so far in the recent round of violence, and the offensive took place right next to Mr. Sharons ranch.
Though the Israeli leader argued that he had already decided to pull back his forces when Mr. Powell made his strong statements Tuesday, a senior Israeli commander had vowed Israeli forces would stay there for days, weeks even months or as long as it took to protect Israeli settlements from Palestinian mortar attacks. This vow was rendered ludicrous later in the day when Mr. Sharon ordered the forces to pull out, shortly after Mr. Powell made his statement. A few hours thereafter, the Palestinians began renewed mortar attacks, and the Israelis were asked to sit on their hands.
By the time President Bush called Mr. Sharon Wednesday night to check on the situation, the Israeli leader was forced to patiently explain how many different ways one spells "s-e-c-u-r-i-t-y" when the lives of Israeli citizens are endangered. But by this time, the damage had been done. Once the United States had slapped Israel on the wrist, the international community including Britain, France, Germany and Syria felt free to do the same, and Israel was a free and easy target both militarily and politically.
"For a long time in Israel there hasnt been such a fiasco," said opposition leader Yossi Sarid of the Meretz party. "We reached a conflict with the U.S… . the Palestinians are now rubbing their hands in glee, we limited our future flexibility in using force, and there is a rift between the political and military levels."
In other words, the Bush administration holds the Israeli handcuffs.

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