- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

Israeli leader Ariel Sharon calls it war. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat calls it the intifada. The grief and rage experienced by those who watched their loved ones killed this week in Israel and the Palestinian territories knows no language. For the six Israeli children killed among the crowd of Orthodox Jews returning from prayers over the weekend, for the more than 30 Palestinian students injured in two bombings on Palestinian schools this week, there is little justice that can be done on this Earth.

Into this violence, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi's Crown Prince Abdullah have injected proposals for new peace talks. The way forward will not be found at the peace table, however, until both sides are able to stop the violence. The measuring stick for the Arab League's intentions for peace will be found in how much pressure it puts on Palestinians to stop their attacks. For now, such a cease-fire seems far away.

In a week in which more than 61 Palestinians and 31 Israelis have been killed, Mr. Sharon's coalition government is beginning to crack under the strains, as many Israeli governments have done before it. Mr. Sharon's former supporters are wanting even tougher measures against the Palestinians, while Labor Party members of his government are talking about leaving and causing early elections. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has said he may quit if the prime minister does not include a political dimension to his strategy to stop the violence.

But how can there be a political dimension to anything as long as the suicide bombers keep coming? Israel, like the United States, has seen too much terror. It has no reason to believe that the peace proposals of Saudi Arabia and Egypt will bring any more security. Prince Abdullah has proposed that the Arab world recognize the state of Israel and its right to security in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal to its pre-1967 borders. Mr. Mubarak has proposed bringing Mr. Arafat and Mr. Sharon together at a peace table at Sharm el Sheikh. Some suspect that both proposals may be motivated by a desire to spring Mr. Arafat from his current house arrest.

Before the Israelis sit at anyone's peace table, it is not unreasonable for them to demand a week's cease-fire. Nor is it unreasonable for the Israelis to see if Prince Abdullah's proposal was more than a way to flatter the New York Times' Thomas Friedman, who broke the story on the crown prince's plan. The test will be Prince Abdullah's address to the Arab League on March 27, in which he will ask Arab countries to second his proposal. Only if the Arab world is behind the deal and successfully pressures the Palestinians to hold their fire will it be time for the Israelis to come to the peace table.

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