Arafat's Untimely Reward

NY Post Editorial
October 4, 2001

The most disturbing aspect of reports that the Bush administration planned - before Sept. 11 - to launch a new Middle East initiative including support for a Palestinian state is not so much their content as their timing.

To be sure, the broad proposal leaked by the State Department - and indirectly confirmed Tuesday by the president - contradicts Bush's longstanding position about the proper U.S. role in Middle East diplomacy.

As a candidate last year, Bush criticized the Clinton administration for trying to "make Israel conform to its own plans and timetables," adding that "this is not the path to peace."

He also insisted that "we can't dictate the terms of peace."

But the proposed outline of a comprehensive settlement suggested by the reports would have done exactly that.

As Secretary of State Colin Powell noted, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon long ago acknowledged that a de facto Palestinian state already exists; just last week, in fact, he noted that successive Israeli governments have tried to give the Palestinians "what they never before had - a state."

But the timing of what clearly was a calculated leak to the press is disturbing.

On the one hand, it sends PLO leader Yasser Arafat the umistakable message that his year-long campaign of violence and terror against Israel can, in fact, yield diplomatic rewards. Indeed, it totally undercuts Sharon's determination not to resume negotiations as long as anti-Israeli violence is raging.

And in the past 48 hours, that violence has continued: Tuesday, Hamas terrorists killed two teenagers and wounded 15 other people in Gaza. In an unsettling similarity to the WTC terrorists, the gunmen left behind a video in which they proclaimed that the attack was "to please God and to champion Islam and Muslims and our dispersed people."

Meanwhile, Arafat has done nothing to halt the killing.

More to the point, the Powell leaks seem principally intended to bolster coalition-building in the Persian Gulf.

Arab states have openly proclaimed their demand that more activist U.S. involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - including increased pressure on Israel - is a major condition of their support for the anti-terrorism coalition.

Even now, though, that coalition appears to be faltering: Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld has rushed to the Persian Gulf to seek support from so-called "moderate" Arab states, which fear anti-American domestic protests.

We're worried that that the administration will repeat the mistakes of the first Bush administration, sacrificing important long-term goals for the sake of a short-term "coalition" with Arab states.

In particular, to undermine Israel, which has set the standard in warring against terrorism, to curry favor with such "allies" would be shortsighted - and shameful.