THIS EDITION OF the Journal goes to press as the world watches a rapid and deathly serious escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As of this writing, the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority is in shambles, the future of the Authority's leader, Yasser Arafat is uncertain, and in a piece of symbolism strong enough to evoke tears, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Christ, is under siege.
In a message delivered to the nation on Easter weekend, Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, was unequivocal in defining the road he has set his nation on. "We must fight this terrorism, in an uncompromising war to uproot these savages, to dismantle their infrastructure, because there is no compromise with terrorists." The prime minister's hawkish, blunt language is suddenly in vogue. Since Sept. 11 last year, a great many appalling acts have been justified in language associated with war on terrorism. Mr. Sharon's speech to the nation was in effect an after-the-fact declaration of war. He spoke several days after his armed forces had begun an assault on Ramallah, where Mr. Arafat's headquarters are, and on other Palestinian strongholds -- an assault unprecedented in violence and vigor. In a sense, the Israeli action was entirely predictable, the result of an apparently endless Palestinian intifada which had, in recent weeks, escalated to an almost daily ritual of mayhem wrought by fanatical suicide bombers. The Israeli casualties, at the hands of these bombers, have been far from negligible. And the state of Israel has never been one to turn the other cheek.
Thus does terrorism, Sharon vintage, come face to face with terrorism, Arafat style. The Middle East, a powder keg for generations, seems, as of this writing, to be into a downward spiral that will maintain this volatility for yet another generation. That Israel is engaged in a life-and-death struggle against Palestinian terrorists is undeniable. And yet, the prime minister's choice of words in a clear attempt to seek legitimacy for his acts through a perverse linkage to the U.S. "war on terrorism" simply adds another despicable dimension to a deplorable situation. The Israeli state is clearly on a course aimed at the elimination of Mr. Arafat and the annihilation of the Palestinian Authority. It can therefore be of little surprise to hear Ariel Sharon describe the Palestinian Authority and its leadership in words that U.S. President George W. Bush has used to describe Osama bin Laden for more than half a year. A war on terrorism, it seems, is licence for everything a state can do these days despite the fact that mere words do not, of themselves, confer any moral authority. If Israel succeeds, it will leave a total and ominous vacuum in the Middle East where several other Arab states remain wild cards.
The world, in the past year, has not so much turned as it has gone into convulsions and tailspins. …