weekend of despicable Palestinian terror and a recklessly inappropriate
Israeli military reprisal deep inside Syria has ratcheted up tensions
in the Middle East at a particularly difficult moment for American
policy there. President Bush should now be urgently counseling all
parties to exercise restraint while his administration embarks on
a new push to revive moribund peace efforts. Instead, Mr. Bush has
unwisely chosen to encourage the most hawkish impulses of Israel's
prime minister, Ariel Sharon, reassuring him in private on Sunday
and again in public yesterday that Israel "must not feel constrained"
in defending itself. Neither American nor Israeli interests are
well served by such provocative advice.
what it says was a Palestinian terrorist training camp in Syria,
Israel hopes to pressure Damascus to crack down on Palestinian terrorists
and to demand that the Palestinian Authority do the same. Yet by
drawing additional countries directly into its intractable conflict
with the Palestinians, Israel makes a political solution for the
core conflict that much more difficult. It also threatens to make
America's role in the Middle East, including in postwar Iraq, even
more problematic than it already is.
Mr. Bush has
tied together the strings of his Middle East policy, promoting the
invasion of Iraq as a step toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian
crisis. With his political future in mind, he ought to be sending
Mr. Sharon clear signals that greater restraint is imperative.
frequency of Palestinian suicide bombings should numb no one to
their horror. Saturday's attack on a crowded Haifa restaurant was
particularly repellent, if such distinctions can even be made. It
brought random death to 19 innocent people, Jewish and Arab, one
day before the most sacred date on the Jewish calendar. Such calculated
acts of mass murder constitute the greatest single obstacle to diplomatic
progress, eventual Palestinian statehood and real peace.
understand that no Israeli government can accept endless terrorism.
Yet Palestinian violence ought not to lead Israel across a military
threshold it has wisely respected for three decades. While Syria
has never recognized Israel, the two countries have worked hard
to avoid open warfare since the 1973 war ended in a crushing Syrian
defeat. Mr. Sharon's actions pointlessly risk reopening armed conflict
across what has long been a peaceful border. Washington should be
far more vocal in warning against this danger.
failure to do so is disappointing but not surprising. Through nearly
three years of spiraling violence in the Middle East, his administration
has too often remained on the sidelines. Its one serious venture
in peace diplomacy, last spring, was quickly abandoned. While Washington
has rightly called for the emergence of responsible and peaceful
Palestinian leaders, it has consistently failed to press Israel
to take the kind of steps that could help such leaders succeed,
like a halt to settlement building. A more responsible American
course is needed to turn the Middle East's attention back to peace
and discourage any drift toward wider war.