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Pursue Peace — And The Terrorists
By Abraham H. Foxman
National Director of the Anti-Defamation League

This op-ed originally appeared in New York Jewish Week on June 20, 2003. RULE
Posted: June 20, 2003

The deadly suicide bombing in Jerusalem on June 11 that killed 16 Israelis and wounded scores of others, on the heels of the events of the previous two days — Hamas killing five Israeli soldiers, Israel’s retaliatory strike in Gaza on the terrorist mastermind of Hamas, Abdel Azziz Rantisi, and President Bush’s criticism of Israel’s action — demands clarity on where we should go from here.

If there is to be any hope of saving this newborn peace process, already on life support, the United States must pursue a two-track policy.

First, it should insist that the peace efforts must continue despite Palestinian terrorism. This must be not because of a general rule that peacemakers must ignore terror; indeed, Israel tried to do this in the ’90s and found this could not work. The public demands action and protection, and protestations of a desire for peace from the other side when innocent Israelis are being slaughtered ring hollow.

Rather, the peace process should continue because it is too early to see whether new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has the will and capability to take on the terrorist groups. The message from Israel and the U.S. to Abu Mazen is 'we will give you time to mount your efforts against terror, you must move expeditiously but realistically, and in the meantime we will move on with commitments even with the horrible terrorism.'

Second, the U.S. must declare that Israel has the right to defend itself, including taking broad action against terrorist groups — Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades — exactly because of the recognition that Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, are not yet ready and capable to do so.

This is necessary not only because of a basic principle of the right to defend oneself against terrorism, which we in the U.S. insist upon. It is necessary for several strategic reasons as well. To criticize Israel for taking action in the face of such murderous acts by Hamas simply gives Hamas even further incentive to continue the killings — they murder Israelis as they promise, and they revel in U.S. criticism of Israel. What could be a better deal for these enemies of Israel, Jews and peace?

Moreover, it is important to impress upon Abu Mazen and his colleagues, as well as Arab leaders, that Israel will not be deterred from defending itself. This is vital in order to provide an incentive for him to find the means to deal with the Islamic extremists. It will be difficult enough for Abu Mazen to choose to take on the terrorists. It will be almost impossible to do so if Hamas can claim that it is attacking the 'occupiers' while bringing down the wrath of the U.S. on Israel for retaliating.

President Bush was not wrong to make his bold effort for peace now. Many on both sides realize the disaster that has taken place over the last 22 years. The U.S. victory in Iraq and its insistence on not dealing with Arafat led to the appointment of Abu Mazen and hope for a new Palestinian approach. The fact that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has talked of ending Israeli rule over the Palestinians reflects Israel’s despair over events and its willingness to test the waters as to whether indeed Israel finally has a partner for peace.

The waters must still be tested despite the horror on the streets of Jerusalem. In time, the true test will rest in Abu Mazen’s hands. Until then, Israel cannot be expected to stand idly by when its people are being slaughtered.

It is critical that the Bush administration convey these messages as a way to give peace a chance.

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