- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2001

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which many expected would deepen U.S. sympathy for Israel's security plight, instead have provoked some of the sharpest exchanges between an American president and an Israeli leader in memory.
President Bush, in a White House meeting yesterday with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, again urged Israel to withdraw its troops from Palestinian-controlled areas. But Mr. Peres said the troops would stay until Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat moved to arrest terrorists operating in his territory.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell reinforced that message in a separate meeting with the Israeli foreign minister, while Mr. Peres insisted Israel's government had no plans for long-term occupation of the areas on the West Bank.
"The secretary knows we would like to withdraw immediately," he said, but added the forces will remain until the killers of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, assassinated last week, are arrested and extradited to Israel for prosecution.
In Bethlehem, heavy fighting resumed yesterday between Israeli solders and Palestinian gunmen, while two Palestinians were killed at a security post in the West Bank city of Tulkarm.
At least 31 Palestinians and one Israeli have died in the violence since Mr. Zeevi was shot Oct. 17.
Early today, a column of Israeli tanks stormed another Palestinian village in the West Bank apparently in search of extremist suspects, the head of the village council said.
About 15 tanks rolled into Beit Rima, close to Ramallah, under cover of darkness, sealing the community of about 4,000 people off and sparking clashes.
Mr. Bush's effort to enlist leading Arab and Muslim nations in the fight against global terrorism networks has been greatly complicated by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new offensive against Palestinian militant groups, which has intensified since last week's assassination of the hard-line Israeli Cabinet member.
"The administration has concluded it badly needs Arab world support for the war on terror," said Hermann F. Eilts, a veteran U.S. diplomat who served as ambassador to both Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
"Whether people like it or not, many of those governments are deeply concerned with the state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and I think Mr. Sharon overplayed his hand because he did not fully appreciate the linkage."
Mr. Sharon earlier this month implicitly compared U.S. cultivation of Arab states to the "appeasement" of Adolf Hitler before World War II, a comment that brought a quick White House condemnation before the prime minister apologized.
The State Department Monday employed unusually blunt language in criticizing new incursions by Israeli forces into areas controlled by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority, demanding that Mr. Sharon exercise "greater discipline and restraint."
"The deaths of innocent [Palestinian] civilians under the circumstances reported in recent days are unacceptable," department spokesman Philip Reeker said.
That comment brought a quick retort from Mr. Sharon's government.
A spokesman said yesterday that the Oct. 17 assassination of Mr. Zeevi for which a radical Palestinian group immediately claimed responsibility "crossed a red line."
"Sometimes even among friends there are differences," spokesman Gideon Meir told the BBC. "We have to defend our people."
With a lasting peace deal in the Mideast still far away, U.S. officials had hoped simply for a period of quiet in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A combined delegation of representatives from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations met with both Palestinian and Israeli leaders over the weekend with what one called a basic message to "cool it."
Washington politely declined Mr. Sharon's public offer of assistance made in the hours after the attacks last month on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon for fear it would complicate the effort to build a broad anti-terror alliance.
There was a historical precedent well known to President Bush's father. Israel kept a low profile during the buildup to the 1991 Persian Gulf war against Iraq, as President George Bush assembled his own alliance of Arab and non-Arab powers to defeat Saddam Hussein.
Many Israeli press outlets speculated in the days after Sept. 11 that the terrorist attacks would inspire greater understanding in Washington of the kinds of security threats that Israelis have to deal with on a daily basis and of the dangers of radical Islamic terrorist groups.
Mr. Arafat, fearful of just that reaction, moved quickly to disassociate the Palestinian cause from Osama bin Laden. But "politics, like the Lord, works in mysterious ways," said Khalid Jahshan, vice president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
"When the United States started working seriously in the region with Arab states on the crisis, Israel's efforts to play a larger-than-life role were not workable when they clashed with the needs of realpolitik," Mr. Jahshan said.
Mr. Sharon's government has watched with increasing dismay what many in Israel see as Bush administration signals of a new sympathy for Arab and Muslim causes.
Most important, the administration leaked the news earlier this month that Mr. Bush sees an independent Palestinian state as part of a long-term Middle East peace settlement.
Arab diplomats argue that the need for a more "balanced" U.S. stand on the conflict is moral and pragmatic. And active U.S. diplomacy on the Israeli-Palestinian front, they say, could provide political cover for regimes in the Arab world that face domestic criticism.
Joseph Curl contributed to this report.

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