In the wake of three murderous attacks on Israeli civilians last weekend, Secretary of State Colin Powell was moved to declare that "It is a moment of truth, Mr. Arafat." It would be more accurate to describe this as a moment for truth.
There really is no choice. It is not enough that the death and destruction meted out by suicide bombers intent on killing as many Jews – and, in particular, young Israelis – as possible has caused Secretary Powell and, his boss, President Bush to call on the Palestinian Authority's Yasser Arafat for a crackdown on the people surrounding and allied with him who are responsible for this terror. Similar demands in the past have never received a serious and sustained response. The absence of any penalties for such behavior has only served to reinforce the Arabs' contemptuous disregard of American injunctions to act.
Neither would it be sufficient if the Palestinians' latest bloodletting in Israel had the effect of granting a reprieve – especially if it is but a temporary one – for the Jewish state from the recently intensifying American pressure for more Israeli territorial and other concessions. To be sure, President Bush deserves credit for exercising restraint during Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to the White House on Sunday.
Under the circumstances, however, Mr. Bush had no choice but to eschew Secretary Powell's campaign to euchre Sharon into abandoning his precondition that there be at least seven days without violence before committing to a renewed cease-fire with the Palestinians. In the same way, the president should dispense with any further loose talk about a Palestinian state and official declarations that Israel should facilitate its early creation.
Necessary as these steps are, they are no longer sufficient. Now we need the whole truth and nothing but the truth. These are some of the harsh realities that can no longer be ignored, that need now to be publicly acknowledged and made the basis of future Mideast policy by the Bush administration.
The so-called Middle East "peace process," begun with secret Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Oslo, has materially contributed to the present, catastrophic situation. Successive concessions made in the name of advancing the "peace process" by both Labor- and Likud-led governments of Israel have not appeased demands for further concessions, only whetted Arab appetites for more.
Thanks especially to the decision taken at Oslo to allow Arafat to return to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to create what amounts to a proto-state there and to arm its tens of thousands of "police" with automatic weapons (and, covertly, with heavier armaments), Israel has made itself vastly less secure than it was prior to 1992. Converting the Palestinian Authority into a sovereign state, with internationally recognized borders, would do nothing to prevent suicide bombers from finding safe-haven and launching attacks from its lands – just add enormously to Israel's costs in contending with that threat.
The folks who brought us the Oslo "peace process" and its progeny have been thoroughly discredited by their handiwork. The last people President Bush and Ariel Sharon should be taking advice from in the present crisis are the likes of Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, State Department Policy Planning Staff Director Richard Haass, Arabists in the Bush administration who are holdovers from the Clinton era and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Britain turned to new leadership after the appeasers got it into World War II. President Bush must do the same – not allow their contemporary counterparts to compound the danger they have helped to inflict on American interests in the Middle East and her most important ally in that region, Israel.
Yasser Arafat remains committed to the destruction of the state of Israel. This is evident in his speeches to his people in Arabic and the symbols (particularly the maps) he uses to describe his goals. He can no more be expected to end attacks on Israel by people who share his objectives than he can be relied upon to create a state of "Palestine" that will live, as President Bush put it recently, "side-by-side with Israel in peace and security."
Arming some of Israel's neighbors to the teeth – notably, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, whose true colors are evident in the fact that their government-controlled media are allowed incessantly to broadcast venomous denunciations of Israel – is an inducement to renewed hostilities with the Jewish state, not conducive to a genuine and durable peace. The pending sale of lethal, land attack-capable Harpoon II missiles to Egypt is a case in point.
Of course, it will appear to be easier not to acknowledge these realities or other unpleasant truths. Too many people – including past and present senior U.S. officials – have much invested in the falsehoods that vest legitimacy in Arafat and his ilk and the "peace process" that has made the latter a far more dangerous threat to Israel.
Still, those murdered in Jerusalem and Haifa over the weekend will not have died in vain – and may even have spared many others from meeting their fate – if the terrorists who killed them really have compelled a moment for truth, one that gives rise to U.S. Middle East policies rooted in the hard facts as they are, not political expediency or wishful thinking.