Our situation today is worse than it was a month ago and this is largely a product of our own making.
There was appalling fallout following the conflicting messages conveyed to the Americans by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres during their parallel visits to Washington. That was magnified during US Vice President Dick Cheney’s visit to Israel, when our foreign minister openly argued with him, unashamedly defending Arafat’s position. Not surprisingly the Arabs, who have now learned how to present a united front against Israel, told the Americans that support for dismantling the Iraqi regime would not be forthcoming unless they were able to coerce the Israelis into making further unilateral concessions to the Palestinians.
Our decision to show strength by invading the Palestinian areas and refugee camps failed, because the key terrorists had time to flee and the army was pressured to withdraw before it could finish its work. The Palestinians had a field day and the incursions provided superb footage for the hostile international media, which once again portrayed Israel as a brutal military machine indiscriminately killing women and children. The international media sidelined Israeli victims of suicide bombers, describing them as inevitable victims of the “cycle of violence.”
The nihilistic Israeli media exacerbated the position by providing inordinate exposure to fringe groups like the rebellious reservists, demonizing the army and even publishing paid advertisements justifying terrorism.
The chaotic scenario was capped by Sharon making more unilateral concessions to the Palestinians.
Not surprisingly, the Palestinians felt that terrorism was paying off. Indeed, in a poll 85% of Palestinians supported ongoing suicide bombings and expressed opposition to a cease-fire, anticipating that Israelis were so demoralized that they would even welcome a capitulation by their government.
That, of course, is absurd. Until now the Israeli public has displayed remarkable fortitude, but in the continued absence of a credible policy, this will be unsustainable.
It is therefore now high time that Sharon assumes the mantle of the leader of a nation at war and sets aside all partisan political interests, including the obsession to maintain a national unity government at all costs. His coalition must agree to support the decisions of the government or resign.
Sharon must end the charade of treating the Palestinian Authority as a peace partner when its own affiliates openly take pride in accepting responsibility for terrorist outrages, including suicide bombings. Today there are no distinctions among Fatah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.
Our prime minister must also refute the mind-numbing cliche that the struggle against terrorism cannot be won by military means. That, too, is nonsense. In the absence of meaningful negotiations, the instigators of terrorism can only be apprehended or killed by military means. Likewise, the safe havens also can only be neutralized by military intervention.
SHARON must inform our American friends that we can no longer continue to sit with folded arms while our neighbors openly organize suicide missions from safe havens a few kilometers away and hold street celebrations whenever our children are blown up.
He should give notice to the international community that, if the cease-fire is not sustainable, Israel will be obliged to militarily dismantle the PA and the terrorist infrastructure.
This is not an issue of left- versus right-wing politics. The overwhelming majority of Israelis will support any government that speaks with one voice and determines what is best for Israel’s national interest, rather than making compromises based on factional interests or personal self-aggrandizement.
Today even many Israelis, who supported the dismantling of settlements as a price to pay for a comprehensive peace settlement, would support such an action because they realize that the Palestinian appetite now transcends any kind of reasonable compromise. Their objective is dismantling the Jewish state.
Unless Arafat undergoes a dramatic change of heart, only a swift and decisive military victory and temporary occupation will convince the more realistic Palestinians that the best they can achieve is to negotiate a basis for coexistence with us as separated entities. After having dismantled the terror infrastructure, if our minimum security needs can be guaranteed we could also consider a unilateral withdrawal to defensible borders. However, to do so now would be misread as a further erosion of our will to resist and would only encourage more terrorism.
Such a scenario is, of course, fraught with danger and could involve heavy casualties. It will outrage international public opinion and may even anger our American friends. But we should explain that our reluctance to take such steps in the past has emboldened Arafat to escalate terrorism to such a point where some Israelis are now even afraid to walk the streets or visit restaurants. We must explain that it is impossible for our civilians to continue being burnt offerings to crazed suicide bombers, even for the most worthy enterprise of bringing about the downfall of Saddam Hussein.
Sharon must set aside all other political considerations and move quickly and decisively to bring about a united government that will act with one voice. Failing that, let us have speedy elections and let the people of Israel decide.
The writer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior vice president of the World Jewish Congress.