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Apt Warning for Sharon

November 19, 2003

Four men who ran Israel's Shin Bet security force for nearly two decades have sent a needed warning that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's military response to the Palestinian conflict should be matched by an effort to find a political solution. The former security chiefs, who served leaders of various political parties, told the Yediot Ahronot newspaper that Sharon's policies were leading the country toward disaster. The quartet said Israel must end its 35-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and deal with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader.

It is unfortunate that Arafat still controls the Palestinian security apparatus. His stubbornness led to the resignation of the Palestinian Authority's first prime minister after only four months. Israel can help his successor last longer by fulfilling its promises to tear down settlements on Palestinian territory. Palestinians need to stop the terrorists among them; a Palestinian killed two Israeli soldiers Tuesday at a West Bank checkpoint, but Israel announced that Sharon still planned to meet the new Palestinian prime minister next week.

The criticism of Sharon by the men who ran Shin Bet came weeks after Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, the army chief of staff, said military checkpoints and curfews in the West Bank were harming innocent Palestinians and driving anger and hopelessness to dangerous levels. Sharon supporters criticized Yaalon and the former Shin Bet chiefs and noted that Sharon had easily won election as prime minister in 2001 and again this year.

However, the 3-year-old Palestinian uprising, with suicide bombers attacking Israelis and Israelis retaliating by killing leaders of the groups it holds responsible, has resulted in the deaths of more than 800 Israelis and 2,400 Palestinians. The Israeli and U.S. refusal to deal with Arafat has not stopped the killings.

Ami Ayalon, one former Shin Bet head, joined with Sari Nusseibeh, the president of Al Quds University in Jerusalem, to launch an initiative that has collected nearly 100,000 Israeli and 60,000 Palestinian signatures supporting a Palestinian state next to Israel. President Bush a year ago declared that to be his vision as well, but his support for the peace process has been too episodic. Bush should try to breathe new life into the "road map," which demands action by both Israelis and Palestinians and which has been dormant for months.

The U.S. can also build on a tentative agreement by former Palestinian and Israeli political leaders that calls for compromises by both sides. Palestinians would renounce a right to return to what is now Israel in exchange for dismantlement of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. These are familiar goals; it will take a greater effort on both sides and by Washington to make them reality.

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