- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2001

Sometime around 1800 B.C., the Egyptians built Jerusalem. In 1000 B.C. King David conquered it for the Israelites. After Roman rule, in 638 A.D. the Muslim Caliph Umar I entered the city. On July 15, 1099 Godfrey of Bouillon, leading the first Christian European Crusade to the Holy Land, seized Jerusalem from the Muslims. On Oct. 2, 1187, the great Muslim leader Saladin Sultan of Egypt, Arabia, Syria and Mesopotamia retook the Holy City for his religion and people. And so it remained, except for 12 years, in Muslim hands until 1917, when the British marched in during WWI.
In 1948 the Jews of newly-formed Israel received West Jerusalem from the British. In 1967 after the Yom Kippur War started by the Arabs Israel took East Jerusalem.
And last summer after the collapse of the Camp David Middle East peace talks Yasser Arafat returned to the Gaza Strip where banners were displayed calling him "The Palestinian Saladin." It should be remembered that Saladin remains after 800 years the hero of all Arabia not because he made peace, but because he made successful war against the infidel and reclaimed Palestine for the Muslims.
The Crusading Christians held Jerusalem for 88 years. So far this time, the Jews have held it for 53 years. The Arabs and Jews are patient peoples. But this summer, both those peoples are losing their patience, and the wretched descent to war has once again begun.
The Wall Street Journal reports this week that according to a senior Israeli army officer: "Both we and the Palestinians are slipping down a slide toward all-out conflict and neither of us can find anything to catch on to and stop ourselves."
Over the weekend, Egypt's President Mubarak threatened to move his 3rd Armored Army into the Sinai if Israel moves into Palestinian territory (which Israel is seriously considering). The Egyptian move would be a violation of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. Mr. Mubarak's aide, Osamaal-Baz, then added that if Israel attacks Syria, "The Syrians would not be alone."
At the same time, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah promised "full military support" for the Palestinians, while the Iranian army itself was moving long-range rocket units capable of hitting northern Israel on stand-by in Southern Lebanon.
Saddam Hussein is advancing Iraqi tank divisions from the Republican Guard barracks near Baghdad toward the Jordanian border. If those units reach the border, that would be a "causus belli for Israel," said a senior Israeli officer.
Shockingly, Mr. Arafat the man who wouldn't or couldn't make peace when it was handed to him on a platter last summer has announced his intentions "in the coming days" to form a unity "government" with the terrorist organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Whether he means it, whether he is doing it out of weakness or bellicosity we can't yet know. But even the words and certainly the act would constitute his final and absolute rejection of the Oslo peace conditions.
After all, the Israeli unity government, led by the resolute but restrained Ariel Sharon, is only asking for the briefest period of non-terrorism (as required by the internationally endorsed Mitchell plan) before sitting down with Mr. Arafat. For Mr. Arafat, who is theoretically obliged by the Oslo accords to arrest terrorists, to actually propose bringing these baby killers into his government is to virtually declare war.
As events in the Middle East slip out of control, the question banging around Washington and Crawford, Texas, is what, if anything, can the U.S. government do to stop the slide to war. The conventional answer (which we hear coming out of the State Department) is to lean on Israel to restrain itself even in the face of the murder of its citizens. But, obviously there is no moral equivalency between the victim and the perpetrator. President Bush has focused more on Mr. Arafat's responsibility to curtail the violence. But he expresses this reasonable thought casually, while slouching in his golf cart.
It may be that a major war is inevitable, but it behooves the president of the United States to make every effort and to be seen to make every effort to prevent it. Appearances matter. The world players, and the American voters, take their cue from the tone and visual presentation of the president.
At a minimum, he should call his top national security advisers and his secretaries of state and defense to Crawford, meet with them and make serious statements in formal settings. He might even consider going back to the White House for a few days and calling in, separately, Prime Minister Sharon and Mr. Arafat for face-to-face conversations. He should let the players and world know that he gives a damn about peace.
He might recall that his father correctly sent his secretary of state, James Baker, to the Middle East for one last effort at peace before unleashing the dogs of war against Iraq. The current president is making an ill-considered and unnecessary mistake by seeming to not lift a finger to stop a war.

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