JERUSALEM - Refusing to bow to U.S. pressure to exercise restraint in the Palestinian conflict, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said last night that Israel will not sacrifice its safety for the sake of an anti-terror coalition that includes Arab states.
"Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense," Sharon told reporters. "This is unacceptable to us."
It was a defiant warning to the White House, which has been trying to win support in the Middle East for a U.S. campaign against terror by ending the fighting that broke out a year ago between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israel has been left on the sidelines as American officials build a coalition that includes states that are hostile to the Jewish nation and upset by the yearlong Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The fighting has killed more than 750 people and escalates daily despite truces and cease-fire accords.
Sharon's remarks are the strongest signs to date that Israel is frustrated at being scolded by the United States for tactics used against the Palestinians. Israel doesn't like being scolded while American officials court its enemies and talk tough about Osama bin Laden.
"All of our efforts to reach a cease-fire have been torpedoed by the Palestinians," Sharon said, indicating that a truce entered into under pressure from the United States is over. "The fire did not cease for even one day. Therefore, I have instructed our security forces to take all measures to bring calm."
Concern about allies
Transport Minister Ephraim Sneh, a member of the left-of-center Labor Party, went further, saying Israel is concerned about the type of countries the United States is courting for its coalition, such as Iran, Sudan and Pakistan.
"To say that the U.S. is abandoning Israel is untrue," he said. "But there is a danger of appeasing extremist elements in the Muslim world, and this worries us."
Those comments came hours after a Palestinian gunman dressed as an Israeli soldier opened fire at a bus stop in the northern city of Afula. Three Israelis were killed and 14 wounded. That followed Tuesday night's attack on a Gaza Strip settlement in which two people died.
Change in tone
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who pushed for meetings with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat despite the violence, appeared to change his tone after meeting with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat yesterday. The meeting was described as tense and unproductive.
Appearing on CNN last night, the normally conciliatory Peres said the two terrorist attacks this week, which occurred despite a negotiated truce, left "no room for compromise."
He said he wants to negotiate, but at this point: "It is either them or us. They leave us no choice. It is a game of murder."
Call for monitors
Erekat blamed the escalating violence on harsh military tactics by Israel and urged the United States to send an official to monitor what is left of the tattered cease-fire. European officials also once again urged the two sides to return to the negotiating table.