- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2001

Fridays suicide bombing in Israel, which killed 17 young people outside a discotheque in Tel Aviv and wounded countless others, was undoubtedly the most shocking act of terror recently in a country that has seen a great many awful acts directed against its civilian population. In response, the Israeli government understandably and appropriately called off its two-week old unilateral ceasefire declaration. No government can stand idly by while its people are murdered and maimed in this fashion. The Israeli government is also holding Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat directly responsible for the terrorist action, as well they might. It is time for Mr. Arafat to accept accountability for the atrocities committed by his people in the name of his political cause.

It was only a few days ago that President Moshe Katsav, during a visit to Washington, warned the U.S. administration that Mr. Arafat had only a few days to implement a cease-fire, or he could expect a much more aggressive military response from Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had announced an Israeli cease-fire on May 22 and had been waiting for Mr. Arafat to follow suit ever since. His decision followed the release of a report written by an international fact finding committee, headed by former Sen. George Mitchell, which made recommendations on how to stop the violence. However, the Israeli announcement hardly alleviated the intensity of the conflict on the ground.

The day after Mr. Katsav passed on Mr. Sharon´s message here in Washington, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, which has killed scores of Israelis, had a message for Israel in return: "Go to hell Sharon, you and your state, and your settlers." Abdallah al-Shami, the leader of the militant group, said it was his group´s attacks that had caused Mr. Sharon to declare a cease-fire, Reuters reported Friday. Meanwhile, at a funeral in Jerusalem attended by tens of thousands of Palestinians, Mr. Arafat blamed the death of the city´s top PLO official, who died of a heart attack, on Israel and called the man a martyr. So much for stopping the incitement.

The day after Sharon called for the cease-fire, 38 Palestinians were wounded in Israeli-Palestinian skirmishes in the Gaza Strip near the Egyptian border, and an Israeli motorist was gunned down by Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank. The following day, Israelis shot down a Lebanese plane they thought to be on a suicide bombing mission. The same day, Israeli forces killed an 18-year old deaf Palestinian and a 15-year old Palestinian refugee. The following Saturday saw five suicide bombing attacks by Palestinians, and another two the following day.

A poll released by the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported Friday that 53 percent of Israelis had not wanted Mr. Sharon to continue the unilateral cease-fire, which prevents soldiers from firing unless lives are endangered. On Tuesday, angry settlers brought that reality to Mr. Sharon´s front doorstep in the form of the corpse of Gilad Zar, an Israeli settler who served as the head of security for Israeli settlements in the West Bank. He was killed when Palestinians opened fire on his car in Nablus.

Mr. Sharon should be commended for showing good faith by pulling back Israel´s F-16s, despite a lack of reassurance from Mr. Arafat that he would return the favor by refusing to incite violence against Israelis. Unfortunately, this gesture of goodwill only earned Israel more heartache. Palestinians have said they want the Mitchell accords which calls first for a cease-fire on both sides and the confidence building measures like a freeze on the expansion of Israeli settlements implemented all at one time. But they have shown no initiative to follow through with even one of the recommendations. As tenuous as the Israeli cease-fire has been, at least Mr. Sharon has exhibited the courage to try it. By failing to live up to any part of the bargain, the Palestinians have now forced his hand.


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