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Sharon should settle for 95 percent tranquillity
November 23rd, 2001
Southfield, Mich. (Jewish Renaissance Media) — Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has made his point about the Palestinian leaders’ indifference to stopping organized terrorist acts.
Now that the U.S. has made a strong demand for a 100 percent effort by Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to stop the violence, Sharon should recalibrate his strategy and open the door a little wider to a process that could reduce the levels of violence on both sides.
For months, Sharon has insisted that a prescribed six-week cooling off period cannot begin until seven consecutive days pass with no Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
That period of abating tension is integral to the plan put forward by former Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet as a way to start the negotiation process suggested last spring by a committee that former Senator George Mitchell headed.
The reality, of course, is that hardly an hour has gone by without such violence. In the period Nov. 10 to 18, according to Sharon, Palestinian terrorists launched 268 attacks, killing 5 people and injuring 59. That is a rate of a bit more than one attack every hour, every day.
Arafat has said he has been trying to stop the incidents by arresting terrorist leaders. But many in Sharon’s government say the arrests are shams and the terrorists are released within hours to resume their work.
In his Middle East policy speech Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell implicitly agreed, saying the Palestinians must “arrest, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of terrorist acts” and that he wanted to see “real results, not just words and declarations.”
Many of the terrorist factions privately hope to take over if and when Arafat’s leadership ends, so they have incentive to delay any peace process.
Terrorists have veto
Sharon’s insistence on absolute tranquillity — “complete calm, no terrorism, no attacks, no incitement and no violence. Seven days of testing, no less,” he said Sunday — effectively gives the terrorists a stranglehold on achieving any meaningful truce.
Furthermore, some Israeli actions have made it easier for Arafat to plead his case internationally. The military incursions into six Palestinian cities following the assassination of Tourism Minister Avraham Zeevi were probably necessary. But they certainly heightened Palestinian anger as they dragged on to no apparent security gain.
Israel has not loosened its economic stranglehold on the West Bank and Gaza, giving the appearance of imposing a unilateral collective punishment on a people whose greatest misfortune now is their immoral leadership.
And, as Powell noted, Israel continues to allow expansion of housing in settlement areas that would almost certainly have to be turned over to Palestinian control under any long-range agreement for a Palestinian state with well-defined borders.
The Powell speech was an acknowledgment that the U.S. cannot continue to sit on the sidelines and expect Sharon and Arafat to make progress by themselves. But his tough approach to Palestinian violence affirms that Israel holds the moral high ground and can afford to take the risk of negotiating before gaining 100 percent quiet.
In a similar vein, European Union delegates told Arafat that to earn E.U. recognition of a Palestinian state he must keep the terrorists in jail, possibly under international supervision. Given the E.U.’s previous carte blanche endorsement of Arafat’s leadership, the criticism suggests that Sharon’s message has gotten through.
But unless Sharon acts promptly and decisively, he risks missing an opportunity for de-escalation. Given that the Palestinians have spent the years since Oslo teaching themselves to hate Jews and to murder them when they can, Israel cannot realistically expect an absolute end to the terror.
Sharon needs to show the world that he is sincere in working for a meaningful armistice, a breathing period in which both sides can step away from a daily expectation of violence. Perhaps he could settle for 95 percent tranquillity.
It is galling that Israel must repeatedly demonstrate that it is not the aggressor, that it truly does want to live with its neighbors, that it does not fear a Palestinian state based on assured recognition of mutually acceptable borders. But it is a fact of global life.
By easing the “seven days of quiet” rule just a bit, Sharon would risk little and could gain a lot.
Jonathan Friendly is national editor of Jewish Renaissance Media.