A grave mistake
by Jonathan Rosenblum
Jerusalem Post Int'l Edition
October 12, 2001
Admittedly it is not easy being the prime minister of a beleaguered, little nation being hollered at by the leader of your sole patron in the world. So when President George W. Bush told Ariel Sharon that he was the only leader in the world to turn down a request from the United States since September 11 (if Ha’Aretz is to be believed), the pressure on Sharon to sanction a meeting between Shimon Peres and Yasir Arafat must have been very great.
Sharon did well to avoid any clever responses like asking the president how many terrorist groups housed in Damascus had been expelled in response to Bush’s proper equation between terrorists and the nations that harbor them, or whether Hizbullah had been forced to close any of its bases because of a loss of Iranian patronage, or whether the French or Russians had ceased all work aiding Iraq and Iran acquire nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them thousands of miles away. Bush surely was not looking to engage in a debate.
Nevertheless Sharon erred gravely in submitting to that pressure, much of it orchestrated by his foreign minister. Not only will that decision make the world less safe for Israelis, it will likely lead to greater, rather than reduced, tension with the United States over the long run.
One lesson of the attack on America is that the first duty of every government is to protect the lives of its citizens. Sharon should have explained that Israel could not possibly agree to negotiate after a week in which three mothers were targeted in separate drive-by shootings by Palestinians. By approving a Peres-Arafat meeting as long as a "decent interval" of 24 hours passed since the last Palestinian murder of a Jew, Sharon turned the murder of Israelis into a game entailing the most minimal punishment.
But nothing sold Jewish lives cheaper than continuing to pursue talks after the Palestinian Authority arrested the murderer of Sarit Amrani, gunned down in front of her three children, and then immediately released him. By releasing him, Arafat made clear that his call for a cease-fire was a purely tactical gesture designed to repair his image. Sharon would have been within his rights to ask President Bush how he would have felt if the PA had arrested one of Osama Bin-Laden’s co-conspirators and then released him with a warning that the murder of Americans is frowned upon this month so please no more terrorist activities until further notice.
The long-range damage to Israel of the Peres-Arafat talks will be even greater. Allowing those talks to become a central point of American coalition building has retroactively given credence to the notion that Bin-Laden’s jihad against America has a legitimate basis in American support for Israel.
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