- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2002

The U.S.-Saudi proposal to end Yasser Arafat's confinement in Ramallah by bringing in American and British "wardens" to guard six imprisoned terrorists is a dangerous step toward internationalizing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will needlessly put American lives at risk.

Details of the arrangement the product of a deal agreed to last weekend by President Bush and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and presented as a virtual ultimatum to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon are still being worked out. But administration officials have said that they envision that a handful of civilian American monitors, who may be recruited from private security firms, would supervise the imprisonment of the six. Five are members of the Syria-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which was responsible for the October assassination of Israel's tourism minister. The sixth is Mr. Arafat's finance chief, who arranged the abortive shipment of 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestinian Authority.

In an effort to address Israel's longstanding and absolutely valid complaint about Mr. Arafat's revolving door system of "arresting" terrorists and springing them from jail soon afterward, a small group of American and British nationals, probably unarmed, will be dispatched to Jericho to "supervise … Palestinian custody" of the terrorists, as one American official put it.

It's certainly understandable that the Bush administration and, in particular, Secretary of State Colin Powell, the prime U.S. mover behind the Abdullah-Bush scheme, would seek to obfuscate what's really going on here. Unfortunately for them, however, the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, has let the cat out of the bag. Mr. Straw said it is possible that if peace develops "in greater depth" that "none of us" should rule out the possibility of putting in an international force.

Even more ominous is the fact that Saeb Erekat, a top aide to Mr. Arafat who bears overwhelming responsibility for the past 19 months of violence, also welcomes the "opportunity" offered by Abdullah-Bush. According to Mr. Erekat, the plan can be "the beginning of something," which would include "a broader international presence, and broader peacekeeping troops in our area to monitor everything."

In short, this is a formula for turning the West Bank into South Lebanon II. For nearly 25 years, Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorists based in Lebanon, some of them from Mr. Arafat's own Fatah organization, have attacked Israel despite the presence of international "peacekeepers." While the peacekeepers were utterly useless in preventing attacks on Israel, they proved very good at ensuring that Israel would be vilified when it retaliated against the terrorists. The Abdullah-Bush plan is an updated formula for bringing in Western observers to serve as human shields when Mr. Arafat or his henchmen decide to turn the West Bank into southern Lebanon once again.

Congress needs to ask some tough questions about this arrangement. It's time for thoughtful critics of this policy and, in particular, Republican supporters of the president to speak out against this ill-conceived policy.

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