- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 2, 2002

Yasser Arafat's escalating terrorist campaign against cafes, discotheques, Passover seders and pizzerias, and the tough Israeli military response it has provoked, has left President Bush with a critical choice. He can either get off the fence and stand unmistakably with Israel, or he can continue trying to distance the United States from Israel's struggle with terror in the hope that Saudi Arabia and other U.S. "friends" in the Arab world will refrain from sabotaging a military operation against Iraq.

Clearly, the policy pursued by the administration until now has been a failure. Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. special negotiator Anthony Zinni were unable to persuade Mr. Arafat to agree to a cease-fire, which would have required him to call off the suicide bombers. The Arab Summit in Beirut also passed resolutions opposing any military move against Saddam Hussein, who is now offering stipends to the families of Mr. Arafat's suicide bombers and extolling "the Palestinian people's steadfastness and valiant intifada against the Israeli occupation and its destructive war machine." In other words, the summit participants are praising the brutal terrorist violence Israelis are forced to endure. Since March 1, 125 Israelis have been killed by Palestinian terrorists. (Relative to population, this is the equivalent of more than 5,000 Americans being killed.)

But instead of providing leadership, Mr. Bush has provided equivocation. Early Saturday morning, for example, the United States joined other members of the U. N. Security Council in voting 14-0 for a resolution demanding that Israel withdraw its troops from Ramallah, where they have launched a military campaign to root out the terrorist infrastructure. Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. James Cunningham condemned violence on "both" sides.

On Saturday, the president, speaking with reporters at his Texas ranch, rightly denounced the suicide bombings and called on Iran and Syria to end their roles in supporting terrorism. Mr. Bush veritably pleaded with Mr. Arafat for the umpteenth time to "do a lot more" to stop terrorism and to condemn terrorist attacks in Arabic. For his part, Mr. Arafat hasn't gotten the message. Instead of condemning suicide attacks, the Palestinian boss has said that he would rather become a "martyr" than surrender fugitive terrorist suspects hiding in his Ramallah headquarters to the Israeli army.

Mr. Bush further undercut the force of his own message to Mr. Arafat by urging Israel to ensure that, as it acts to defend its people, it leaves open "a path to peace," apparently a suggestion that Israel limit its actions against Mr. Arafat so as not to eliminate the chance of achieving "peace," including the independent Palestinian state that the administration has endorsed. It should be pointed out, however, that when offered statehood two years ago by Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Mr. Arafat said no and launched a murderous war of terror. Now is not the time to reward Mr. Arafat for supporting terrorism. Now is the time to stand with a fellow democracy, Israel, as it confronts its local bin Laden.

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