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Jewish World Review June 4, 2001/ 14 Sivan 5761

Wesley Pruden

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Consumer Reports

One last warning
for Yasser Arafat -- THE president of Israel sat down with the president of the United States with an unusually undiplomatic message for Yasser Arafat:

"Get serious, or else."

It sounds like the real thing.

The Israelis, like everyone else who looks and listens to whatīs going on in that wretched acreage called the Middle East, have concluded that the Palestinian leader either canīt or wonīt call off the violence that has taken hundreds of Jewish and Arab lives over the past several months.

The new administration in Jerusalem finally has the public backing for getting tough, very tough, if Peace Offensive No. 712 -- do not laugh, please -- does not succeed. William Burns, the U.S. diplomat now on a tour of certain Middle East capitals to spur implementation of the Mitchell report, is an official pessimist. (Optimists, official or otherwise, are merely fools.)

What is clear is that Israel is not in the mood to take much more. Moshe Katsav is supposed to be a ceremonial president, with no policy-making powers and little precedent for exhibiting political throw-weight, but he clearly came to Washington armed with a very unceremonial message. The message is that if the Palestinians wonīt get serious about stopping the killing, the Israelis will.

Mr. Katsav, in an interview yesterday with reporters and editors of this newspaper at Blair House, where he is staying in Washington, declined to say exactly what a deadline for agreeing to a cease-fire will be, or what, exactly, will happen if Mr. Arafat ignores the warning. But itīs not to be a matter of weeks.

"No more than a few days," he said.

The presidentīs bluntness is a reflection of hardening attitudes at home. The rhetoric of politicians of every flavor in Jerusalem makes it clear that thereīs little Israeli appetite for reoccupying Gaza, no expectation of a reprise of the Six-Day War or the Yom Kippur War. But if warnings are not heeded the Palestinians can expect Israel to destroy their terrorist infrastructure -- the means with which Yasser Arafat makes life intolerable for everyone.

Natan Sharansky, a Cabinet minister who is a member of the security Cabinet, told reporters yesterday in Jerusalem that Arafat aides in flashes of boastfulness have told their Israeli counterparts that the Arafat strategy is chillingly straightforward, to make Israeli civilians afraid to go outside their homes, "to go to the movies, or to let their kids out on the street, so that in the end you will do what we say."

"I think that for many years we have made great efforts to turn Arafat into a partner," Mr. Sharansky said. "I think now we are at the end of the road. It is the last chance for Arafat to prove that he can still be a partner. I donīt have a lot of hope. At some point we have to be willing to say we did not succeed, he is not willing to be our partner. Then you have to know how to fight and defend your people."

Another Cabinet officer, Shlomo Benizri, minister for labor and social policy, was event blunter, arguing bitterly against further restraint. "Every day we bury our dead in order for the world to give us a medal."

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whose battlefield toughness long ago gave him a reputation for unyielding rigor and resistance to compromise, is under siege, literally, on his streets for, of all things, going soft. Hundreds of protesters blocked streets yesterday outside the prime ministerīs home in Jerusalem, demanding more or less that Sharon be Sharon. He defended himself in the Knesset against complaints that his restraint in the face of widening terrorism invites further harassment of civilians. "We must fight in the complicated diplomatic campaign and succeed in it," he said. He bristles at the frequent questions of "how much longer?"

Some Israelis think restraint has given Yasser Arafat and his lieutenants the idea that Israel is weak, weary of life in the permanent garrison state, gone to blubber and flab, that if they keep up the pressure, keep paying out their women and children as sacrificial pawns in a bloody game of greedy politicians, they can force the Arab countries, even the politicians in Egypt and Jordan who know better, to stand with them.

Itīs not a bad strategy. Surrender is sometimes not so bad, maybe even profitable, and often you can even sleep with the enemy. Much of the rest of the world, and particularly the Europeans, with their history of calling on others to save them in time of fatal peril, has no appetite for, and little understanding of, what it means to stand alone against terror, against the odds and against an enemy sworn not merely to occupy you but to destroy you. But Americans do understand. Thatīs why the Israelis remind a lot of us of us.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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