August 10, 2001
We’ll get to the latest Palestinian massacre of Israeli civilians in a moment, but
first a lesson in historical context.
One of the most memorable stories Ariel Sharon tells is of the visit he
made to Washington in 1982 on the eve of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. Then
Defense Minister, Mr. Sharon met with the American Secretary of State,
General Alexander Haig, and his Middle East envoy, Ambassador Habib. He
alerted them to the fact that he was going to respond to the terror being
launched from Lebanon. As Mr. Sharon later recounted the incident in his
memoir “Warrior,” the State Department objected, warning that there would
have to be an “internationally recognized provocation.”
“How many Jews have to be killed for it to be a clear provocation?” Mr. Sharon
asked. “One Jew? Two Jews? Five? Six?”
Mr. Haig nonetheless conveyed his objections in blunt terms. When Mr. Sharon
had gone back to Israel, Mr. Haig went over his head, sending to Prime Minister
Menachem Begin a letter urging Israel to exercise “complete restraint.” Begin
sent a reply to be remembered.
“Mr. Secretary,” he wrote, “the man has not been born who will ever obtain
from me consent to let Jews be killed by a bloodthirsty enemy.”
We can imagine that Menachem Begin’s example has been very much in Mr.
Sharon’s mind as he has huddled with his inner cabinet in the wake of
yesterday’s bombing by Palestinian Arab terrorists. Like most of the Palestinian
attacks, the latest specifically targeted civilians.
The bomber struck a pizza parlor filled with families. It was not a military
headquarters, nor a terrorist cell. The dead, totaling at least 15, included six
babies. They were not collateral damage. They were the targets the Palestinians
were aiming for.
The Bush White House’s first reaction to this event was to call for an end to
“the cycle of violence,” by now a standard leftwing formulation of events in the
Mideast. By late afternoon, Mr. Bush from Texas revised that position to at
least put the onus on Yasser Arafat. That said, a “senior official” from his State
Department was on the late wires insisting that the Israelis “must avoid reacting
in a way that extends the cycle of violence.” From Al Haig to now, little
changes in such precincts.
A few weeks ago, Mr. Bush sent his director of central intelligence, George
Tenet, to broker a cease-fire. That included a commitment on the part of Yasser
Arafat to arrest some 100 named operatives of Islamic Jihad and Hamas,
Arafat failed utterly to carry out his commitment, and the results were
demonstrated yesterday. In his statement, Mr. Bush called on Arafat to comply
with the Tenet plan. Well, it looks just a little late now.
Israel should not be asked to stand down any further, least of all by its most
constant ally. What Mr. Bush and the Administration need to say, and Congress
will be behind them, is that they recognize that no civilized nation can stand
down while these kinds of barbaric attacks are launched against its civilian
population week after week.
No one is opposing peace between the Palestinian Arab people and the Israelis
in the Middle East. The Israelis want peace as much as anyone else. The
Palestinian population is also filled with decent, educated people who also yearn
for peace. The Palestinians are not represented by Yasser Arafat and the other
terror chiefs who claim to act in their name but who rule as by internal terror
against Palestinians. These tyrants have to be driven out.
What Mr. Bush and the Administration can do now is assist the Israelis in
targeting those who are plotting to perpetrate more bombings of civilians.
These are not “assassinations.” They are engagements in a war that is
well underway and in which there is a right side and a wrong. Vice President
Cheney understands this. Senator Biden understands it. The vast swatch of
Americans in between those political poles understands. As Menachem Begin
instinctively understood, neither P.M. Sharon nor President Bush has any need
Bush’s Mideast Box
Editiorial, Wall Street Journal, August 2, 2001
Watching the drama in the Middle East conveyed to the world in print, televised
images and commentary, we find ourselves feeling a certain sympathy for the
predicament in which President Bush finds himself.
Here is a President who took office just as Israel handed power to a man, in
Ariel Sharon, with a remarkably similar set of tough and pragmatic instincts. It
seemed to us then that Mr. Bush had arrived at the sensible conclusion that it
was time to let Mr. Sharon and the Israelis deal with an obviously intractable
Palestinian opposition according to their own best judgement about the region’s
No sooner was Mr. Bush in office, though, than he found himself stumbling into
a trap that had been laid by President Clinton in the form of the Mitchell
Commission. It was launched in the floundering of the last days of a failing
peace process in an effort to preempt the new Administration.
Mr. Bush was either too new to the job or too poorly advised to send the
commission packing. Quickly, its formulas had been adopted by a State
Department again tilting to the Arab camp.
Often when Mr. Bush has tried to do the right thing, his life has been
complicated by the Texas oil patch. This culminated last month when his father,
the former President, telephoned Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and
tried to assure him that his son’s “heart is in the right place” when it comes to
the Middle East and that his son was “going to do the right thing.”
According to the report in the New York Times, the elder Mr. Bush
actually placed the call while his son was in the room. The call, warm and
familiar in tone, was, according to one Administration official, “designed to
encourage Abdullah to think of the new President as having a grasp of the
Middle East similar to that of his father.”
Now, in a drumbeat of newspaper articles and op-ed features, the most
left-wing of the advocates of appeasement are trying to convince Mr. Bush the
Younger that blame for the failure of the peace process attached not so much
to the Palestinians as to the Israelis and the Clinton Administration on the eve
of a Presidential election.
The other day there was a long news report in the New York Times so
limited in its sources to the left-wing side of this story that it brought a rare
public upbraid from the Times’ own William Safire. It’s enough, as we say, to
wring from us sympathy for the President.
So let us just say that this is a moment for Mr. Bush to keep his head and trust
his original instincts. The reason that the Europeans and the old-guard
Democrats like George Mitchell, not to mention hard-left advocates of the peace
process, are trying so frantically to hector Mr. Bush back to the idea of
negotiations at this time is that they can see the train has left the station.
Particularly for the left, the collapse of Oslo is a bitter event, allowing all
the world to see that for the Palestinian leadership the process has been little
more than the modern equivalent of a show trial.
Everyone seems to have been assuming that there would be a final chance to
do something before war started in the Middle East.
Well, it turns out that Mr. Sharon is not going to launch a
Normandy-invasion style attack on the Palestinian Authority. He comprehended
from the first that the danger was not that the situation would degenerate into
war as that word is normally understood. Israel was already in a war. It is a
continuation, he has been emphasizing lately, of the war of Independence from
1948, when the Arabs rejected the United Nations compromise and attacked
the fledgling Jewish state.
With the backing of a national unity government — the classic war formula in
Israel — Mr. Sharon has been pressing his counterattack with a subtlety and
shrewdness that has confounded those who like to caricature him for the
invasion of Lebanon.
Suddenly, enemy terrorists are being brought down en-route to their
mischief, or as they are assembling bombs, or plotting bombings, rather than in
old-style revenge killings. There have been few if any large military maneuvers.
This is war waged in twilight, not unlike the Cold War. Subtle, but no less
To Mr. Bush we would say that this, like the Cold War, is not a struggle in
which he is going to want to be remembered by history as being a neutralist.
Despite the murky formulations of the left, there is a right and wrong in this
struggle, which at bottom is an attack on the West and on the idea of
Hard as it is to accept, the differences with the Palestinian regime — a
Soviet-era holdover without a democratic mandate — may just not be