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The Policy Of Restraint

Prime Minister Sharon is being roundly criticized in his own Likud Party by those who are disenchanted with his policy of “restraint.” Indeed, it would now appear that former Prime Minister Netanyahu would win a vote for leadership of the Likud if it were held today. Plainly, there is much frustration with the continuing violence and the failure of Mr. Sharon to bring an end to it.

However, upon reflection we believe the criticism is misplaced. Massive air strikes against Palestinian targets and/or an invasion and reoccupation of Gaza and the Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank at this time would surely trigger the strongest of international condemnations ? including from the United States. And Israel would most certainly face mounting terrorism, both inside and outside of the West Bank.

Yet the Sharon policy has already achieved significant success. There are already signs that the policy of targeting the terrorist decision-makers is leading to desperate-sounding calls from Arafat on down for international protection. One even hears some of the leaders telling their cadres to tone down the violence beyond the so-called “green line” and for a return to rock-throwing. Some are even heard to call for abandoning even rock throwing within the “green line.” We don't for a moment think that we have reached a turning point. But it does seem fair to say that the Sharon policy seems to be having an impact while the alternatives do not look all that promising.

Just as importantly, the Sharon policy seems to be resonating well with the Bush administration. To be sure, Secretary of State Powell periodically expresses criticism of this or that Israeli action. But it is significant that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney continue to express a more supportive view of what Mr. Sharon is doing.

To be sure there may come a time when more extreme measures may be warranted. There may come a time when the prospect of stemming the violence through cowing those who give the orders may become too dim. But the point is that by that time Israel can reasonably expect to bring President Bush along with him by continuing to act reasonably under the circumstances ? measured and not precipitously.

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