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New York Times Op-Ed Piece, Tuesday, March 30, 2002

More War Is Not the Route to Israeli Security
March 30, 2002
By Yossi Beilin

TEL AVIV - The terrible terrorist events that have struck Israel on the Passover holiday have generated an understandable feeling that "something must be done." Not surprisingly, that has meant waging war on the Palestinian Authority.

Such a war can be justified in many ways, even beyond the natural desire to respond to acts of brutality. The second Palestinian intifada began in September 2000 against the backdrop of a viable political peace process, and it was not restrained by Yasir Arafat at its outbreak. Mass demonstrations were soon replaced by brutal acts of terrorism, some coming from groups closely connected with the Palestinian Authority and Mr. Arafat.

But the job of the Israeli government is not merely to explain its actions. It is to ensure the safety of its citizens. A war with the Palestinian Authority would ensure exactly the opposite outcome.

It is easy for many Israelis to cling to the belief that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yasir Arafat "everything" while Arafat answered him with the intifada. And indeed, Mr. Barak did make a considerable peace offer in July 2000 at the Camp David summit. However, it must also be remembered that by December 2000, Mr. Arafat had agreed to the Clinton peace plan, as did Mr. Barak. Both men did so with reservations, and this act of compromise occurred at the height of the intifada.

But instead of accepting the successful talks that had taken place between Israel and the Palestinians at Taba in Egypt in January 2001 as a way toward a final settlement, Ariel Sharon decided, after being elected prime minister, to terminate the peace process.

He has never concealed his opinion that the Oslo process was wrong. So he brought it to an end with the help of Shimon Peres and the Labor Party. First, he delegitimized the Palestinian Authority and Mr. Arafat as its leader. He sought the destruction of the power centers of the Palestinian security system. And this Thursday, he essentially declared war on the Palestinian Authority with the intention of neutralizing Mr. Arafat.

Mr. Arafat, for his part, is apparently willing to achieve his national objectives either by peaceful means or by violence, just as when he showed up at a United Nations meeting in 1974 holding both a gun and an olive branch. During the Oslo process, he put down his gun and was prepared for security cooperation with Israel. When he became disillusioned with the process, he was willing to pick up the gun again.

Each escalation of violence has fueled the next. Mr. Arafat's periodic instructions for a cease-fire were not unequivocal. But Mr. Sharon did not accept Mr. Arafat's cease-fire declaration of Dec. 16, 2001, which was largely implemented. He has rejected the Saudi initiative that promises normal relations with Israel in exchange for the withdrawal of Israel from the territories it occupied in 1967. And he seems to interpret the low American profile on the crisis so far as a green light for making war, just as he did in Lebanon 20 years ago.

The only way out of this crisis is for the two sides to agree to a cease-fire to be supervised by the United States; build on the Saudi initiative; and use the assistance of the American mediator, Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, to ensure that the Palestinian Authority's security forces are restored. Implementation of existing agreements and resumption of peace talks are essential.

The Israeli war against the terrorist infrastructure will give birth to more terrorists because the terrorist infrastructure lies within people's hearts. It can be uprooted only if there is hope for a different kind of life in the Middle East. I believe a different life is still possible, but each day that passes without some gesture by both sides toward that future makes peace ever more elusive.

Yossi Beilin was Israeli justice minister in the government led by Ehud Barak.