- The Washington Times - Friday, April 5, 2002

In a desperate attempt to revive the Mideast "peace process," President Bush announced yesterday that he'll be sending Secretary of State Colin Powell back to the Middle East next week in an effort to re-start Israeli-Palestinian talks. Unfortunately, in an effort to denounce terrorism against Israel without offending the Arab world, Mr. Bush delivered a muddled, confusing message that will do nothing to advance the cause he is advocating.
Mr. Bush, for example, characterized the peace plan put forward last week at the Beirut Summit by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah as something that could be a "hopeful" event, asserting that it "has put a number of countries in the Arab world closer than ever to recognizing Israel's right to exist." The president glossed over the fact that this is ambiguous (or maybe not so ambiguous) about the demand that Israel absorb millions of hostile Palestinian refugees, which would effectively destroy the Jewish state, and that the same Arab summit also adopted a resolution effectively endorsing Palestinian terrorism against Israel. The president might also ask the Saudi "peacemakers" about recent reports, including one Wednesday by Agence France Presse, that Saudi Arabia has joined Saddam Hussein in providing stipends for families of suicide bombers.
In remarks yesterday morning, Mr. Bush called on Syria and Iran to stop supporting terrorism, and urged Palestinians to oppose terrorist groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. But he omitted mention of the fact that the Al Aqsa group, which has carried out scores of suicide bombings and other attacks against Israel over the past 18 months, is affiliated with Yasser Arafat's very own Fatah organization. Asked why he has refused to acknowledge that Mr. Arafat, who has orchestrated the wave of terrorist violence that has claimed the lives of more than 400 Israelis and more than triple that number of Palestinians over the past 18 months, is engaged in terrorism, Mr. Bush avoided the question, and delivered a rambling reply about how "Mr. Arafat has agreed to a peace process." The evolving Bush doctrine seems to be that it doesn't really matter that you're actually engaging in terrorism, so long as you say you're negotiating peace.
Indeed, Mr. Bush equivocated just as Israeli intelligence officials say that in a search this week of the Ramallah office of the Palestinian Authority's chief financial officer, they recovered a letter on the letterhead of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which the State Department designated a terrorist group, pleading for reimbursement for the money spent for materials to make bombs. Israeli troops yesterday seized 40 explosive belts, apparently destined for suicide bombers, at a factory in the West Bank town of Salfit. Perhaps Mr. Powell, when he visits the region next week, could ask Mr. Arafat about this.
Mr. Bush objects to what the Palestinians call the "humiliation" they face at searches at Israeli military checkpoints. That's mom-and-apple pie stuff, of course: No decent person can condone humiliation as a policy. But Mr. Bush may want to contemplate exactly what Israel is supposed to do to keep suicide bombers out of its cities. Just last week Israeli soldiers stopped an ambulance in the West Bank that was carrying explosives hidden under the bodies of several young children. If Washington can come up with specific suggestions as opposed to pious complaints about nebulous concepts like "humiliation" as to how to make checkpoints less intrusive while keeping suicide bombers out, the Israelis should listen.

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