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The United States can help bring peace to the Middle...

April 02, 2002

The United States can help bring peace to the Middle East. But only if the two key players there shake off their blood lust, get past their 20 years of personal antipathy and recognize that neither can win the mutually destructive war in which they're now engaged.

Israeli tank assaults and the arrests of Palestinians have not stopped suicide bombers. Suicide bombers have not stopped the fusillades from Israeli tanks. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's vague pronouncements about "isolating" Yasser Arafat and "rooting out terrorism" do not constitute a strategy. And Arafat's professed embrace of martyrdom while watching the young bombers die and kill is even less of a plan.

Arafat won't be able to stop every suicide bomber, but a tough statement in Arabic to all Palestinians to put down their weapons could give pause to some young fanatic presently strapping explosives around his chest. The Palestinian leader should speak out now.

Meanwhile, Israel is calling up 20,000 military reservists, the largest such action since 1982 when Sharon, then an army general, led the invasion of Lebanon. It's hard to argue against a strong defensive posture by a nation that day by day has seen bombers butcher its men, women and children. But Israel's neighbors shudder at what looks like preparation for violent oppression of a people, few of whom have taken to bombing even though they have spent their lives watching the promise of an independent state continually deferred to some indefinite future.

Some bombers want the cycle of violence to continue. When peace talks appear about to bear fruit, they attack. But here's the tragic conundrum that Sharon seems unable to recognize: Despite Israel's aggressive response to the slaughter, including attacks on Arafat's Ramallah compound, Palestinian terrorists continue to kill civilians daily. Calling off talks because of suicide bombings gives the terrorists a veto over peace.

The mayhem has turned moderates in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza into extremists. Arafat hears the shouts of those who want Israel obliterated. Sharon is pressed by Israelis, including political rival Benjamin Netanyahu, who want tougher action against the Palestinians. Sharon and Arafat need to ignore these voices, which have echoed for generations. Enormously difficult though it may be, they need to give up their pasts and the short-term appeal of retribution and start leading their people toward peace.

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