- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 4, 2001

The White House yesterday publicly told Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that his roundup of 120 suspected terrorists will mean nothing if Palestinian jails continue to "have revolving doors at the back."
While White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer insisted President Bush did not give Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a "green light" to wage war against Palestinians, the administration appears to be giving tacit approval to Israel's decision to piggyback on America's war against terrorism.
For the second day in a row, the White House called on Mr. Arafat to rein in the violence while taking pains not to urge Israel to exercise restraint. The distinction carried greater weight because it came on a day when Israeli forces rained fire on Palestinian targets near Mr. Arafat's headquarters.
"There are some who support peace and want us to achieve peace," Mr. Fleischer said. "There are others who would use violence and terror to disrupt any progress that's being made towards peace.
"The president thinks that this is the chance now for Yasser Arafat to demonstrate real leadership, that is lasting, that is enduring, that puts people responsible for this away, and does so in such a way that they cannot get out again and commit more terror.
"The president thinks its very important that Palestinian jails not only have bars on the front, but no longer have revolving doors at the back," he said.
It was a pointed reference to previous episodes when the Palestinian Authority rounded up terrorism suspects in the wake of attacks on Israel, only to turn them loose when the political heat subsided. The latest round of suicide bombings against Israel during the weekend appear to have strengthened Mr. Bush's support for Mr. Sharon in the conflict with Palestinians.
"Hezbollah, the Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other organizations that are operating in that region have already been identified by the State Department as terrorist organizations," Mr. Fleischer said. "And the president recognizes it as such."
Israel's counterstrikes came a day after Mr. Sharon met with Mr. Bush at the White House. But the administration insisted the Israeli leader was not seeking permission from America to punish Palestinians.
"Prime Minister Sharon did not ask for a green light; and, therefore, President Bush was not in a position to give or not give," Mr. Fleischer said. "Israel is a sovereign government; Israel has the right to defend herself."
But there were signs the administration's support for Israel's crackdown might encourage Palestinian sympathizers to launch new terrorist strikes. The administration, which has run out of patience for Mr. Arafat, appears willing to risk recriminations for reaffirming its support of Israel. At the same time, the White House is mindful that the president's position might put Mr. Arafat in a perilous dilemma.
If Mr. Arafat truly shuts down Palestinian terrorist groups, he might not be able to survive the domestic political fallout. But if he does nothing, Israel is likely to further intensify military strikes, possibly even targeting Mr. Arafat.
Such calls intensified yesterday, with Israeli and American hawks and an increasing number of ordinary residents of the Jewish state saying the attacks prove that Mr. Arafat is either unable or unwilling to halt terrorism.
"It's time for Arafat to go," said Richard Perle, a former Pentagon official under President Reagan. Either he's incapable of halting the suicide bombers "or he can and has chosen not to."
An opinion poll published yesterday by Israel's Yediot Aharonot newspaper showed 37 percent of Israelis wanted Mr. Arafat out of power and the Palestinian Authority dismantled.
Despite that figure, 32 percent of Israelis were more dovish and said it was time to begin immediate peace talks. Another 18 percent took the even tougher line that Israel's army should reoccupy Palestinian self-rule areas for an indefinite period.
Mr. Sharon refused to echo calls for Mr. Arafat's ouster but warned that a decision has not yet been made on the issue.
Mr. Sharon and many other Israelis are painfully aware that the alternative to Mr. Arafat could be the violent hawks of the Palestinian uprising or the Islamic fundamentalists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
"Arafat no doubt he is the one who is responsible for this terror, and we will have to take the necessary steps, which we'll decide in due time," Mr. Sharon told reporters in Jerusalem yesterday. "The world has stood behind Arafat, but lately they have changed their tactics. They have now seen the true Arafat. Arafat is not interested in peace nor in the peace in the region."
Yoel Marcus, writing for Haaretz newspaper, said it was "time to give Arafat an ultimatum."
"The bottom line is that it can't go on in this way. Whether it's the Hamas or the Jihad of the Popular Front, no matter who officially claims responsibility for this or that attack, it is Arafat's hands that are bloody."
Analyst Robert Satloff, head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that if Mr. Arafat were replaced the next Palestinian leadership would be more "pragmatic."
"Over time, the successors to Yasser Arafat are far more likely than he to represent a more pragmatic stream with the Palestinian community," said Mr. Satloff in an interview yesterday.
"The immediate aftermath [of his removal] is likely to be uncertain and possibly violent but when the dust settles, more pragmatic leadership that represents the interests of West Bankers and Gazans is likely to emerge."
Added Mr. Perle: "There is no evidence the alternatives to Arafat have to be worse."
In an interview yesterday on the "Diane Rehm" radio show, he said: "And if it is worse it will clarify the situation in a way that Israel might find it easier to deal with."
Mr. Bush learned of yesterday's counterstrikes by Israel while he was in the White House Situation Room, conducting a meeting with his national security team. Later, as Mr. Sharon borrowed much of Mr. Bush's anti-terrorism language in a speech to his nation, the president was meeting with Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan.
Senior White House officials huddled to craft the response articulated by Mr. Fleischer at his regular afternoon briefing. Aware that Mr. Bush would be questioned about the hostilities, the White House canceled plans to allow reporters into a photo opportunity with Mr. Bush and Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson.

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