- The Washington Times - Monday, December 10, 2001

If the Palestinians have been confused about the Bush administration's policy regarding their conflict with Israel, it is no wonder. The United States has not appeared to have one at least not one that's been consistent for more than a few weeks. Just a little over one week ago, Palestinians were still basking in the glow of their pet status after President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell talked favorably about the "state of Palestine" apparently the first time a U.S. administration had done so. Washington had also chastised Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for Israeli incursions into the West Bank to root out Palestinian terrorist cells, and for using the word terrorism to make an analogy between Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda and Palestinian groups. Now, in the wake of last weekend's attacks against Israel, the Bush administration is firmly backing measures Mr. Sharon is using to defend his country, and the United States is stepping up pressure on Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to end terrorism. These are welcome moves.
In order to be a catalyst for any lasting peace, however, the administration must develop a consistent Israeli policy that is proactive rather than reactive. The first step is to continue to underscore even after memories of at least five suicide attacks carried out by Palestinian terrorists against Israel in less than eight days fade in official Washington that terrorism of any kind is unacceptable. Attacks by Palestinian groups on Israeli civilians are terrorism, and Mr. Arafat continues to harbor those who carry out such barbaric attacks. It's that simple.
To emphasize that the United States views such attacks as terrorism, Mr. Bush on Tuesday froze the assets of three foundations that support the radical Islamic group Hamas, which was apparently responsible for the December 1-2 suicide bombing attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa which killed 26 people. (Hamas killed 77 people and wounded 547 between Oct. 1, 2000 and Sept. 10, 2001 alone, according to a recently declassified FBI memo.) The three foundations include the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, based in Richardson, Texas and two Palestinian-based institutions, Al Aqsa International Bank and Beit El-Mal Holdings Co.
It was not until after the administration took the measures to freeze the foundations' assets and Israel bombed Palestinian targets in the West Bank and Gaza that Mr. Arafat finally arrested the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin. (This, despite the fact that Mr. Arafat had agreed to crack down on the group several days earlier.) Seeing that the United States is divided on how to support Israel and take its critical security needs into account, Mr. Arafat has taken advantage of the confusion to avoid fighting Palestinian violence until forced to.
Deliberately targeting innocent civilians must always be condemned. However, in an attempt to win Arab world support for its coalition against Osama bin Laden, the United States has enabled Yasser Arafat to be ambivalent toward ending terrorism. This is absolutely unacceptable. Last week's statements backing Israel and condemning terrorism were a good start. Let's hope the administration remembers what it said two weeks from now.

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