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Israel and U.S. bear blame for current state of affairs

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August 18, 2003, 10:00 a.m.

What Right?

Israel and the U.S. bear blame for current state of affairs.

By Saul Singer

Israel, though being a very, very tiny, small country, is the only place in the world where the Jews have the right and the capability to defend themselves, by themselves. And that we'll have to preserve.

— Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, August 12, 2003

JERUSALEM — Sharon says this a lot. It is obviously something he feels deeply, something that animates his entire career as a warrior and a statesman. It is, arguably, the kernel of his Zionist vision.

But it is not true.

On paper, it is true that Israel has a "right and the capability" to defend itself. It is also true that in military terms Israel is a regional superpower. And even the State Department now says Israel has the "right to defend itself." Last Wednesday, separate suicide bombings took the lives of Erez Hershkovitz, 18, and Yehezkel Yekutieli, 43, and wounded 12 others. Hamas took responsibility for one attack, Fatah the other.

Yet Israel has made it clear that there will be no obvious military reaction to these bombings, only continued operations against terrorists in areas the Palestinians do not yet control.

Israel is militarily more active than meets the eye. The IDF has arrested 19 terrorists who were planning suicide bombings after the "ceasefire." In this same period, there have been about 200 attempted terror attacks and the number of attack warnings has stood at about 20 per day. Last week, the IDF arrested 18 people belonging to Palestinian Authority security organizations who manufactured Kassam rockets in Jericho, which have been openly tested under cover of the "ceasefire."

But the fact that Israel is not sitting on its hands does not mean it is really defending itself, either. Since the hudna (ceasefire) was declared, Israel has stopped the targeted killings of terrorists. Just before the hudna, Abdel-Aziz Rantisi, a senior and very visible Hamas leader, narrowly escaped an Israeli missile attack, which put all of that group's "political" leadership on notice that they were targets. Now they are not. Israel is putting only a fraction of the pre-hudna military pressure it had exerted on the terrorists.

Why is Israel being so restrained when it is clear that the PA is allowing the infrastructure of terror not only to survive, but to be rebuilt? Because Israel does not want to be blamed for the demise of the "ceasefire." Each time Israelis die and Israel does not react, Israel builds up victim credits. At the end of the day, after enough Israelis die, Israel hopes to redeem these victim credits for the right to fight back.

Both President George W. Bush and Sharon bear responsibility for setting the rules of this game. Sharon assesses that the U.S. has no Plan B for after the hudna falls apart, and therefore is not ready to back an Israeli "escalation" to the status quo ante, let alone something more drastic. At the same time, the U.S. position is based on an assessment that Sharon will accept American pleas for restraint.

The Palestinians, in the meantime, may rest assured that they can continue to kill Israelis in ones and twos (perhaps more) without being blamed for ending the hudna. Even better, from their perspective, there is a fair chance that further attacks will force Israel to respond in a way that creates a rift with the U.S. and shifts the blame for breaking the hudna onto Israeli shoulders.

How did Israel get into this predicament? The same way that the Oslo process died a death of a thousand violations, each deemed too small to blow the whistle and hold the Palestinians accountable for their commitments. Once commitments are replaced by arbitrary judgments by the U.S. and the Palestinians of what Israel will tolerate, the pressure on the Palestinians is not to comply, but to continue to push the envelope: In other words, to escalate.

The products of this indulgence are devastating not only to Israel, but to the Palestinians and the Arab world as a whole. Indulgence of the PA during this particular ceasefire is an extension of the tolerance for the violent Arab rejection of Israel that has existed since before its inception.

As Zuheir Abdallah, a columnist for the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat, wrote on August 8, "Since [1948], under the pretext of liberating Palestine and destroying the occupation's agents, most Arab countries were taken over by not so intelligent and more tyrannical people... primitive Arab fascism was given free reign…[sometimes] allied with fundamentalist Islam....consequently, corruption spread, and this Arab fascism was constantly being defeated in its Don-Quixote-like-battles with any foreign force (except its people, as it always vanquished them)" (translation by MEMRI).

In other words, the struggle against Israel has produced the downfall and oppression of the entire Arab world. After 9/11, this is no longer just a matter of altruistic concern for the U.S.

The entire war against terrorism, especially its democracy branch, testifies that the U.S. now realizes the Middle East cannot be treated as a black box of backwardness, to be contained rather than transformed. But this lesson has not really been applied to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

This conflict cannot be indulged and ended at the same time. The tolerance of violations of the road map and the parroting of Palestinian excuses for noncompliance (such as prisoners and the fence), are part and parcel of the tolerance of Arab anti-Semitism and the boycotting of almost all contact with Israel.

Zuheir Abdallah is right that the Arab predicament began with enmity toward Israel. It follows that America's demands that the Arab world democratize and make peace with Israel go hand in hand. But before there can be peace, the fight against Israel must be delegitimized. This, in turn, means fully supporting Israel's right to fight back.

As Israel quietly absorbs terror attacks, Sharon's pride in our right to defend ourselves rings hollow. When it does not, we will know that we are truly on the road not only to peace here, but to freedom for the entire region.

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