- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 18, 2002

The best thing that can be said on Secretary of State Colin Powell's return from the Middle East is that he failed to broker what was being called a "partial cease-fire" between the Israelis and Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Neither Ariel Sharon nor Mr. Arafat volunteered to be the first man to raise his head above the sandbags in a "partial" cease-fire. The real product of Mr. Powell's trip is a declaration of an open season on Israel for the diplomatic offensive now in the making.

When diplomats end their meetings, they usually issue a message called a "communique" that describes the understandings they reached, and how wonderful each thinks the other is. In their symbolic language, they can do this in disregard of the lack of substance in their agreement, or even if they haven't agreed at all. What is important is the fact that they both sign the message. For a time, it appeared that Mr. Powell would have a communique with Mr. Arafat, and not with Ariel Sharon. We should be grateful that he is returning without even that, because having only one would be worse than having none.

Had Mr. Powell reached any sort of agreement with Mr. Arafat without signing one with Mr. Sharon, the imbalance would have lent all of America's power and prestige to one of the people in the world least deserving of it. And the shambles that remain of Mr. Bush's doctrine against terror would have been even worse. The danger to Israel created by the rehabilitation of Mr. Arafat and the tilt toward the Palestinians is tangible and growing.

One of America's roles has been to offset and frequently veto the diplomatic tirades against Israel usually unleashed in the United Nations for having the audacity to defend itself against hostile neighbors. Recently our diplomatic efforts have been directed at obtaining Arab support for our planned attack on Iraq. Vice President Cheney's 11-nation trip in early March took him to most of the supposedly moderate Arab states, where he received a very cool welcome and opposition rather than support. At that point, he and Mr. Powell apparently convinced the president that nothing succeeds like failure, and the administration's policy has been to build pressure on Israel as a means of buying Arab support or at least consent for the coming campaign against Iraq. All Mr. Bush has done, however, has been to isolate Israel diplomatically without budging a single Arab nation to indicate even its consent, far less its support. As a result, it is now diplomatic open season on Israel.

Europe will never allow itself to be outdone in appeasing any threat. When it appeared we were appeasing Mr. Arafat to get support for our war against terror, the Axis of Cheese promptly weighed in with a call for economic sanctions against Israel. On April 10, the "Europarliament" voted in favor of canceling its trade agreements with Israel, and took the opportunity to instruct the United States about our "special responsibility" in the crisis. Israel sends about 27 percent of its exports to Europe, so the threat to end the EU's trade agreements is a serious one.

Where the EU doesn't fear to tread, others will surely follow. The United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, hasn't yet missed an opportunity to recommend a "peacekeeping force" to be inserted between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The EU members or others wanting to jump on the bandwagon soon will be offering similar resolutions before the U.N. General Assembly. The United Nations is an old hand at this game, having passed many anti-Israeli resolutions before. But this time, the atmosphere there is different. It is different, and more dangerous, because the United States already voted against Israel and in favor of an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank.

President Bush has worked himself into a tight corner. By having our U.N. ambassador vote in favor of Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, Mr. Bush sent Mr. Sharon a message: I told you to do something, and you'd better do it. But he also sent a message to the Arab world, and their appeasers: Israel can't count on America this time around. It would be something of a problem for Mr. Bush to reverse himself, and order a veto of any U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel or imposing sanctions. He could do it, but will he? Sadly, it appears unlikely.

Leaving the region, Mr. Powell said that the Israeli offensive was the "obstacle that keeps us from moving" into peace negotiations. For Mr. Arafat, Mr. Powell only had advice that it was time for him to " … make a strategic choice and lead his people down the path of peace." This tells Mr. Arafat that suicide bombing his only weapon is effective against Israel, which suffers the carnage, and against America. If a weapon is effective, it will be used. We had a big taste of that on September 11, and now we admit our vulnerability to more of it.

Mr. Powell's statement is also the last signal Israel's enemies need to unleash whatever diplomatic onslaught they can devise. If Mr. Powell believes that Israel is the only obstacle to peace, how can the United States fail to support the coming sanction resolutions? The president has a choice, and on it hangs not only Israel's future, but our own. He can travel Mr. Powell's path, and prove that suicide bombings are an effective weapon against Israel and the United States, or he can get back on the course he set in Afghanistan, and tell Mr. Arafat like he told the Taliban that terrorism has had its last chance, and there will be no more. There's no third choice.

Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration.

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