Israel's campaign

Outside editorial

Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's Washington Post:

Israeli forces carried out a major raid on a Palestinian village in the West Bank on Wednesday. It killed at least five people, but Israeli officials said it also resulted in the capture of two of the men responsible for the assassination last week of cabinet member Rehavam Zeevi. If that is true, then the operation - which Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had failed to undertake - would be an appropriate response to Mr. Zeevi's murder. But it also contrasts sharply with Israel's six-day assault on Bethlehem and five other Palestinian towns, which has killed dozens of Palestinian civilians and further undermined Mr. Arafat's Palestinian Authority but done nothing to stop Palestinian terrorism. As Prime Minister Ariel Sharon persists with the offensive in defiance of strong appeals by President Bush for an immediate withdrawal, Israel increasingly appears to be embarked not on a legitimate action of self-defense but a destructive campaign of aggression.

Since the assassination of Mr. Zeevi, Mr. Sharon has renewed his practice of equating Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian Authority with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. The logical consequence of such a conclusion would be for Israel to attack and destroy Mr. Arafat's regime, much as the United States is seeking to ruin the Taliban. The invasions of Palestinian towns make far more sense as part of such a strategy than they do as an attempt to capture terrorists or to force Mr. Arafat to act against them. But despite Mr. Arafat's many failings - including his failure to arrest Mr. Zeevi's killers or act decisively against other terrorist organizations - he is not comparable to Osama bin Laden, and the destruction of his administration would make the situation in the Middle East far worse. It would unite both moderate and militant Arabs against Israel and bring enormous additional pressure to bear on those governments, such as Pakistan, that are giving critical support to the U.S. campaign against Afghanistan. It would also leave Israel with no possible Palestinian partner for peace negotiations - a scenario that clearly appeals to hard-liners in the Israeli government, if not to Mr. Sharon himself.

The Bush administration has rightly moved sharply in the past several days to raise the pressure on Mr. Arafat. It organized a delegation of senior Western diplomats Tuesday who met the Palestinian leader and demanded that he act against the terrorists on his territory - a message echoed in a letter from President Bush. If Mr. Arafat responds appropriately, he could open the way to a renewal of the peace process. If he fails to act, he should be sanctioned and isolated by the international community. But Israel's military campaign is not only damaging Mr. Arafat's ability to act but also undermining the interests of both Israel and the United States. If Mr. Sharon continues to reject U.S. demands that this self-defeating campaign cease, he too should face consequences.

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