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The Policy Of Restraint: The Controversy Continues

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Debate over Prime Minister Sharon's so-called policy of “restraint” continues to swirl. Among other things, our editorial last week expressing support for his measured responses to the escalating Palestinian terrorism drew more reaction than any Jewish Press editorial in recent memory. The letters from readers on the subject which appear this week are only a sampling of what we actually received, besides some really animated phone calls.

Of course we respect the heartfelt concerns of those ? especially residents of the areas under terrorist siege ? who have the most serious doubts about the efficacy of anything short of a broad military retaking of Judea and Samaria and Gaza. And, in all candor, we may well be moving in that direction. Without question, Israel is at war, and there are lessons to be learned from the American experience in Vietnam and later in the Gulf War about the relative merits of measured responses and the employment of overwhelming force.

However, we still cling to the hope that Mr. Sharon's approach will, in any event, pay critical dividends. It is not, as some have suggested, to “worry about what the goyim think,” to seek to do all that is prudent to keep President Bush's confidence. America's support is indisputedly critical for Israel at this point in its history. This is not to say that Israel should woodenly follow the dictates of a foreign government at the cost of its own interests. It is to say that it is in Israel's best interest to seek to cultivate the support of the United States in pursuit of its goals.

It continues to be clear to us that Israel's quest for peace is materially aided if the Palestinians come to believe that they have no alternative but to work out their differences with Israel. That is, when they realize that the United States has no intention of pressuring Israel to accede to Palestinian demands, Israel's prospects are enhanced. And over the last few months, the only times the United States seriously objected to Israeli actions was when there was a declaration by an Israeli general that an incursion into Gaza was to last indefinitely, and when it used American-supplied F-16's to attack a terrorist enclave when other means had not been exhausted. Significantly, on other occasions, when Secretary of State Powell was critical of Israel, President Bush and Vice-President Bush sent a very different message.

The implication is plain. America will go along with Israel as long as Israel has no other apparent option. That is, Mr. Bush accepts the notion that Israel is the aggrieved party and that it is entitled to do what is unavoidable at particular junctures in order to deal with the Palestinian threat. No more, but also no less.

It should not be lost on anyone that Israel has now taken over Orient House, the Palestinian “White House,” and has also seized several Palestinian strongholds on the outskirts of Jerusalem, to the great dismay and chagrin of the Palestinians. Israel also now moves at will into Palestinian enclaves and destroys terror cells and Palestinian infrastructure. These actions are not as dramatic as an all-out invasion. But they are very, very big deals. And this is all happening with nothing other than perfunctory negative comments from the State Department.

In sum, we here in America should not make the mistake of thinking that Israel's not doing all that it could militarily, amounts to appeasement and inaction. It is one thing to criticize a Prime Minister Barak for pulling his punches in blind pursuit of a discredited “peace process.” It is quite another to similarly criticize a Prime Minister Sharon who keeps upping the military ante in an effort to avoid all-out war. The number of people already killed by terrorist shooting and bombings is an unspeakable tragedy. But there will be a lot more than that number of 19 and 20 year-old Israelis who will die on the battlefield if Mr. Sharon's strategy fails. For now, he is the one to make the exquisite judgment as to when the time has come to go for broke.

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