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His Own Worst Enemy

October 02, 2002

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has loathed Yasser Arafat for decades, yet when the Palestinians finally seemed ready to acknowledge the flaws of their discredited leader, Sharon managed to transform him once more into a hero to his people.

Israel, under intense U.S. pressure, ended its 10-day siege of Arafat's Ramallah headquarters Sunday and out came the Palestinian Authority chairman again, smiling and waving his V-for-victory sign.

President Bush, who seldom directly criticizes Israel, said the siege was paralyzing Palestinian moves toward reform, a goal of Washington. It also was complicating efforts to get United Nations support for an invasion of Iraq.

Israeli soldiers had surrounded Arafat's compound after a suicide bomber blew up another Israeli bus, killing seven people. The soldiers bulldozed buildings they had spared in a siege months earlier.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 05, 2002 Home Edition California Part B Page 24 Editorial Pages Desk 2 inches; 71 words Type of Material: Correction
Mideast violence--An editorial Wednesday saying a Sept. 19 attack was the first suicide bombing in Israel in six weeks was in error. There had been a suicide bombing the previous day as well.

The bus attack was the first suicide bombing in six weeks, a hiatus that let Israelis experience the security that should be theirs and gave Palestinian opponents of Arafat a chance to move toward a new political future in presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for January.

Here's a taste of what Sharon's bullish tactics may have squelched. After a tough speech by Bush in June that demanded Arafat's replacement, the Palestinian leader set the election and announced a new Cabinet with a few respected members but too many others who were longtime cronies in his inept and corrupt government. The Palestinian Legislative Council, the 86-member parliament, denounced the Cabinet, which resigned.

That was an encouraging development, rare in the Arab world. It could have set the stage for new leaders to emerge, a younger generation that would not miss every chance for peace with Israel.

Some influential Palestinians recently denounced suicide bombings and said the attacks on Israel that began two years ago have been a mistake.

After Sharon's latest Ramallah siege, however, the moderates have fallen silent and Arafat is the Palestinians' hero. He should be paying Sharon for campaign advice.

There may still be time to revive Palestinian moderates. Easing Israel's strict curfews and removing some checkpoints in the West Bank that stop Palestinians from easily traveling from one village to another could be a start toward a cease-fire.

Such Israeli actions also would encourage political activity before the elections and let Palestinians debate Arafat's flaws more clearly.

Arafat-the-hero is increasingly a creation of Sharon's overreaction, which forces Palestinians to support the enemy of their enemy.

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