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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, March 19, 2002

U.S. demands on Israel can't stand scrutiny

The burning dispute between Israel and the Palestinians is infinitely complicated, a Gordian knot fashioned of endless perfidy and dashed hopes.

But a single thread of that knot now seems to stand out rather clearly — the recent American role in the region. Noting that President Clinton had lost credibility in trying too hard to force a settlement in the Middle East, President Bush originally turned away from the conflict, saying there was no way to force peace in an arena where there was no willingness.

That was before Sept. 11. Now Bush has learned that the Arab world will not let him put the Israeli-Palestinian dispute on the back burner while they help him extend his war on terrorism to Iraq. And Bush is not ready — thankfully, we'd say — to play the Lone Ranger in Iraq.

Which brings Bush rather too suddenly back to the role of peacemaker, with his envoy dispatched to Jerusalem seeking a cease-fire; his unprecedented resolution "affirming a vision of a region where two states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side" passed by the U.N. Security Council; and Israeli forces generally complying with his demand to pull back from Palestinian zones.

Little has basically changed in the region — certainly not Israeli and Palestinian intransigence — except for the suggestion of Arab readiness to recognize Israel if it restores occupied territory, and the evident impatience of Bush with Israel's frustration of his own designs in the Middle East by its insistence on striking back against terrorism.

It is, of course, terrorism, plain and simple, that has led Israel to its extreme course. The suicide bombings are too regular, too costly, too unnerving not to respond with force.

Bush has responded to terrorist attacks on the United States with extreme measures. At the same time, he urges restraint on the part of Israel in its war on terrorism so he can get on with his own war on terrorism.

That's a position that can't stand scrutiny.