- The Washington Times - Friday, November 16, 2001

It was every Muslim extremist's dream: First, the world's lone superpower, the United States, was brutally attacked by terrorists on September 11. Then, the president of the United States extended an olive branch to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who has supported the anti-Israel violence committed by Islamic terrorist groups such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

President Bush began the courtship by asking Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and focusing his energy on winning support from the Arab states for his anti-terrorist coalition. Last weekend, he told the world at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York about his vision for "Palestine." The use of this word the first time any U.S. president has used it to refer to an independent state controlled by Palestinians was not Mr. Bush's finest moment. It is true that many Israelis have indicated a willingness to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state that would stop incitement and terrorism and live in peace with its Jewish neighbor. But Mr. Arafat has thus far refused to do so. In this context, Mr. Bush's support for Palestinian efforts to achieve statehood sends precisely the wrong signal to the Arab world. It tells them that they stand to reap diplomatic benefits even if they undermine peace.

Mr. Bush's reference to "Palestine" was no slip of the tongue. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that Mr. Bush's use of the word was deliberate and appropriate. Palestinian officials also said last month that the United States is working toward a peace initiative that would give their state a foothold in Jerusalem. Indeed, the Arab world wasted no time in capitalizing on Mr. Bush's remarks. Palestinian Authority Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat told Reuters that Mr. Bush's credibility would be on the line if he did not move to turn his vision for "Palestine" into political reality. What was unthinkable before is now being taken for granted by the Palestinians.

But Mr. Arafat has shown that he does not want a genuine peace, because the process of "peace negotiations" gives him power without requiring that he make concessions. When Israel offered him upwards of 95 percent of the West Bank, all of the Gaza Strip and the return of 100,000 Palestinian refugees on a silver platter at Camp David last July, Mr. Arafat flatly rejected it. Two months later, a new Palestinian intifada broke out against Israel. The violence continues today, with Mr. Arafat unable or unwilling to do anything to end it. As Israel's Minister without Portfolio Tzipi Livni said in an interview Tuesday: "If he can't control terrorist organizations, what kind of peace treaty can we negotiate with him? If he can't bring seven days, one day or even one hour of peace, how can we negotiate a permanent peace treaty with him?"

Mr. Bush was right to say that those who are not with us are with the terrorists. Aside from some positive-sounding rhetoric, Mr. Arafat has done very little to prove he is with us. Mr. Arafat's miserable failure to end the violence should not be further rewarded by the Bush administration.


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