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Pursue shared vision.

Byline: The Register-Guard

When tanks are rolling through West Bank cities, and when suicide bombers are targeting civilians, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that the combatants in this war share with the rest of the world a vision of how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be resolved: with two separate states co-existing in peace. The United States must exercise its leadership to bring this vision back into focus.

President Bush might begin by asking Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to say where they believe the current violence is leading.

Does Sharon imagine that Israel can gain security by military means? Can its soldiers disarm every Palestinian and disband every Palestinian nationalist organization? Even if this could be achieved, does Israel want to make prison guards of its soldiers and inmates of the 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza? Can Sharon have persuaded himself that sending Arafat into exile would bring a better negotiating partner onto the scene, or would bring militant Palestinians under tighter control? Can Israel survive as a democratic nation by making fortresses of its cities and holding the Palestinian people at gunpoint?

And does Arafat believe that suicide bombings will weaken Israeli resolve, rather than hardening it? Does he see that world opinion, which understands and even admires resistance to occupation, recoils from the targeting of civilians? Can he believe that a Palestinian state can ever prosper if its Israeli neighbor has cause not just for distrust, but for fear and hatred?

Both men are calling the current violence a state of war. It is a war that neither side can ever win, but that both sides can lose. Unless progress toward peace is resumed, the future holds more terror for Israelis, more humiliation for Palestinians and more death for both.

President Bush has been sending mixed signals. The United States supported a United Nations resolution calling for the withdrawal of Israeli troops and has counseled restraint, while also supporting Israel's right to defend itself. Bush has called upon Arafat to denounce suicide bombings in Arabic, while also saying he does not regard Arafat as a terrorist and supports the creation of a Palestinian state.

Bush needs to provide more coherent and energetic leadership. The basis for a strong peace effort, led by the United States, is at hand. At its Beirut summit, the Arab League endorsed a Saudi Arabian proposal for peace - a proposal also supported by the United States. The Saudi plan leaves important details unaddressed, but at its core are the concepts of Palestinian statehood, Arab acceptance of Israel and regional peace. This could become the foundation for an Arab-American peace plan that neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis could ignore.

More immediately, Bush should press for a cease-fire. This would require an Israeli withdrawal and a denunciation of suicide bombings. Bush has already called for these things; now he should demand that they occur simultaneously. The fine points of a cease-fire have already been worked out by CIA Director George Tenet. The violence must begin to recede before progress toward coexistence can resume.

Bush should go further, presenting an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation in a global context. Terrorism around the world has been aggravated by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; suicide bombers from Haifa to New York City claim to be acting in service to the Palestinian cause. Sharon, for his part, is using the American war on terrorism to justify Israel's offensive, claiming equivalency between Arafat and Osama bin Laden. A Mideast peace would show the world that not only Palestine and Israel, but Islam and the West, can live together.

Indeed, they have no other choice - unless either side considers annihilation an option. The annihilation, however, would surely be mutual.
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Title Annotation:Bush must press Sharon, Arafat for cease-fire; Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 3, 2002
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