- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2002

President Bush is right to be wary about forging ahead with a new Middle East peace conference given the current climate of mistrust. Speaking Monday following an Oval Office meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Mr. Bush rightly emphasized that the blame for this situation lies squarely with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. The conditions for going forward "aren't even there yet, " Mr. Bush noted. "That's because no one has confidence in the emerging Palestinian government. "

Mr. Bush offered a helpful outline of moves that the parties need to make in order to create conditions favorable to peace talks. He made it clear that right now, the impediments have been created by the Palestinian side. "First things first … . What institutions are necessary to give the Palestinian people hope and to give the Israelis confidence that the emerging government will be [led by] someone with whom they can deal?," Mr. Bush stated. "That's going to require security steps; transparency, when it comes to economic matters; anti-corruption devices; rule of law, enforced by a court system." Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority has failed miserably in these areas, a point Mr. Bush emphasized, saying for the umpteenth time that he is "disappointed" in Mr. Arafat's leadership.

As Mr. Bush spoke, Israeli tanks encircled Mr. Arafat's Ramallah compound. The president took the opportunity to make perhaps his most forceful statement yet endorsing Israel's right to defend itself against the terrorist onslaught which Mr. Arafat has made possible. Mr. Bush emphasized that Israel has a right to retaliate against "people in the Middle East who want to use terror as a way to … derail any peace process."

Aside from yesterday's suicide attack in Herzliya, Israelis continue to be reminded on a daily basis about the sort of enemy they're up against. On Monday, one Palestinian was killed and 40 more wounded when a bomb intended for Israelis exploded prematurely in a building at the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza. A bomb exploded yesterday morning at the gates of an orchard near the West Bank town of Hebron, injuring three 15-year-old Israeli boys, one seriously. In Hebron, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a terrorist group affiliated with Mr. Arafat's Fatah wing of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, claimed responsibility for the slayings of two Palestinians it accused of "collaborating" with Israel.

The argument is frequently heard that the conflict would be resolved if Israel were to give up the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip to make room for a Palestinian state. But a poll released yesterday by a Palestinian survey organization found that 51 percent of Palestinians say their goal is to eliminate Israel; by comparison, 43 percent said they would settle for a West Bank-Gaza state. Until this Palestinian unwillingness to accept Israel is changed, it will be impossible to make genuine progress toward resolving the Middle East conflict.

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