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Getting Out Of The Penalty Box

As the days go by, the outlines of President Bush's strategy for dealing with the aftermath of September 11th are becoming more and more clear. As the President intimated in his riveting “This Is War”/”You Are Either With Us Or Against Us” speech to the nation, and as Secretaries Powell, Rumsfeld and Fleischer have since fleshed out, the United States is trying to craft the broadest possible coalition ? including even those who have heretofore harbored or otherwise assisted “terrorists.” And the focus of the coalition is to be on terrorism with a “global reach” ? as opposed to “terrorism” in all its forms. The primary goals are to make the overall effort to appear as nothing other than a confrontation with international outlaws and to make as many, particularly in the Arab world, part of the solution with a vested interest in its success rather than having them remain as part of the problem.

Accordingly, entrance to “the club” will ordinarily be available to all who will henceforth eschew any support for international terrorism, regardless of past record. Hence, the invitations to Syria, Iran and the PLO. And, in order to avoid desertions from the Arab world, Israel will not be formally listed as a coalition partner. Nor will terrorism directed against Israel be an explicit concern of the coalition. However, the thinking goes, because of the obvious financial, informational, training and personnel interaction between Hamas, Hizballah, Islamic Jihad, et alia and the bin Laden network, there is no way the Arab states and Arafat & Company will be able to continue fostering attacks against Israel while sitting at the anti-terrorist coalition table.

The underpinnings of this approach are is also crystallizing. The concern is not so much for the maximization, per se, of participants on our side. More and more analysts are pointing to the fragility of governments in the Arab world so that it would not take very much to destabilize them to the point of collapse under the pressure of an inflamed Muslim fundamentalism on the march. Nothing, according to this thinking, could be expected to ignite such a catastrophe more than having Arab governments being seen as participating in an anti-Muslim crusade or appearing as carrying Israel's political water.

To be sure, there is a certain surface logic to the President's plan. But one does not have to look any further back than the Oslo “peace process” debacle for instruction. There too, the theory was that a track leading to Palestinian control of territory of their own would provide an incentive to eschew violence in favor of negotiations to resolve differences. Yet, as we are painfully aware, Arafat's disavowal of violence evaporated as soon as talks broke down, after being offered what even President Clinton ? and almost everyone else ? conceded was a historic Israeli offer. Equally as important, Arafat's incitements against Israel continued throughout the course of Oslo. Nor did there seem to be any dividends for Israel even before September 11. As Norman Podhoretz devastatingly demonstrates in the current issue of Commentary magazine in “Oslo: The Peace Mongers Return,” the Arab world will never elect to accept Israel into the Middle East family.

Nor is this only a matter of concern for Israel. As we have noted, no one now believes that there is a way of separating the bin Laden terror network from the activities of the so-called “regional terrorists” such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizballah. They are all cogs in the machine and there is no meaningful distinction to be drawn. They all share resources and information as well as a deep-rooted anti-America/anti-West pathology, of which Israel is only a small part. We would be deluding ourselves at our peril ? and materially compromising the war against terrorism ? by ignoring some of the key entries on the bin Laden organizational chart.

Equally as important, Israel is being told that now is the most propitious time for it to resume negotiations with the Palestinians, even though its condition of a cessation of violence ? which the Bush administration has heretofore supported ? has not been met. The desire of Arafat and the rest of the Arab world to “get out of the penalty box,” it is said, provides an important window of opportunity to resolve differences. Yet, once again, Oslo tells us there is a fatal flaw in the analysis. And there is no getting away from the fact that as horrible as the September 11th attacks were, they are qualitatively of a piece with other acts of terror which were not rewarded with concessions.

President Bush has agonizing choices to make. But we fear that the ineluctable message, so far, is: extraordinary terror works. And, we fear we will all come soon to rue the day.

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