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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, October 11, 2001

For Sharon and Arafat, a time to make choices

There is no telling when the world's war on terrorism will come to an end, or how that end will ultimately be achieved.

But there are at least two people who have the power to bring us closer to that day, if they have the courage and the will to act.

Those two are Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Of course, these two leaders cannot by themselves bring an end to the hatred and violence that has poisoned the Middle East for so long. But by making the right choices, they can create an atmosphere that at least leads toward peace and at the same time dries up one of the key causes of Osama bin Laden and his followers.

Thus far, neither man has shown much interest in making those right choices. The Bush administration must bring to bear whatever diplomatic or other influence it has to create that interest.

The United States must insist that Sharon put a halt to provocative attacks on Palestinian territory. Israel must defend itself, surely, and the United States must continue to support it in its efforts to do so. But in the current climate, the intense continuing Israeli pressure on the Palestinians simply inflames an already perilous situation.

As for Arafat, the United States must insist he cease temporizing and decide concretely whether — to use Bush's formulation — he is with the terrorists or against them.

He has a choice, similar to that facing Pakistan's Gen. Pervez Musharraf: He can join the West in its battle against terrorism and extremism, or he can go against it.

Yes, making a clean break with Islamic extremist groups and arresting those who operate out of his territory would create tremendous internal dangers for Arafat. But it is time for him to decide.

The answer should be obvious.