Getting Israel to back off

Incursions: Despite terrorists' repeated provocations, it's time to pull the tanks back.

October 23, 2001

IT IS TIME for Israel to pull its tanks back from six major West Bank towns and cease reprisal killings, as minority members of Israel's Cabinet angrily demand. Now is the moment to test Yasser Arafat's lip service to the war on terrorism.

The Palestinian Authority made two concessions to Israel's demands after the assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi. It outlawed the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which claimed credit for the murder, and it rounded up PFLP suspects.

Israel's third demand, extradition of terrorists, is unlikely to be met. Under the Oslo accord, the Palestinian Authority would try terrorists itself. Israeli critics of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon claim that he made it a condition for withdrawal confident it would be spurned.

That Israel would respond to the assassination went without saying. That's what PFLP wanted. Peace is what it opposes most. Getting Israel to shoot at Christians is also high among its objectives. Placing gunmen in churches to induce Israeli return fire is a tactic well understood, but Israeli forces fell for it.

The return of PFLP to the limelight is a reminder to Americans that there is nothing inherently Islamic, or misogynist (a la Taliban), about terrorism. PFLP was founded by Christians. It trains women as well as men in terrorism.

Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres reached an understanding with Prime Minister Sharon before his rush visit to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York. "We have no aim to overthrow the Palestinian Authority," Mr. Peres told Mr. Annan. "We have no intention of staying in the Palestinian-controlled areas." Israel will be held to that.

Simultaneously, Secretary of State Colin Powell phoned Mr. Sharon, who reportedly stood by his demand for extradition.

Wider conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is more than a nuisance to Washington's preoccupation with Osama bin Laden. It undermines Israel's security.

Pursuing a confidence-building cease-fire under the plan put forward by former Sen. George Mitchell is what the world wants, as Mr. Annan told Mr. Peres.

To that end, pressure from the United States and other powers on Israel to withdraw its forces is in order.

It must be accompanied by pressure on Mr. Arafat to shut down use of the West Bank and Gaza as platforms for terrorism. So far, his efforts have not been convincing to Israelis whose perceptions matter, or to anyone else.

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