Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Rules: Israel Widens Targets ; for First Time, Bush Administration Doesn't Urge Israeli Restraint in Response to Terrorism

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Rules: Israel Widens Targets ; for First Time, Bush Administration Doesn't Urge Israeli Restraint in Response to Terrorism

Article excerpt

As it responds to a new deadly cycle of terrorist violence, Israel is taking its cue from the United States' action against the Taliban in Afghanistan: no distinguishing between terrorists and those who harbor them.

For Israel, that means hitting Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority just as hard as Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization that claimed responsibility for suicide bombings that took at least 26 Israeli lives in 24 hours.

The US, for its part, hasn't asked Israel to be restrained in its response to Palestinian violence - a first for the Bush administration. To be sure, the US is not going so far as to endorse the Israeli perspective that Mr. Arafat is on par with the Taliban.

But Washington's calculated move not to dissuade Israel from taking retaliatory action shows how America's own war on terrorism may be influencing its allegiances and ability to affect the Mideast peace process.

For the moment, the Bush administration is back in the hard place it occupied for months: between those who say the US can only sit back and wait for a more propitious moment to sure for negotiations, and those who say only the US and a full diplomatic press can break the degenerating cycle of violence in the troubled region.

Clearly, the three suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa reminded official Washington of Sept. 11 - and provided a dramatic backdrop for President Bush's meeting with Israeli Prime MInister Ariel Sharon on Sunday. While the US is still insisting that dialogue with Arafat is possible, the US approach to Israel may be shifting - at least Israel is interpreting it that way.

Before the weekend attacks, Mr. Bush was prepared to pressure Sharon to soften his demand for seven days of quiet before any return to dialogue, sources say. Instead, Sharon emerged from what he called "friendly" talks feeling no pressure for restraint and fortified in his view that Israel must deal with its terrorist threat much as the US is dealing with its own threat.

"What emerged [from the meeting] was a Sharon doctrine very much paralleling the Bush doctrine on terrorism," says Raymond Tanter, a Middle East expert with close ties to the White House. "Bush says we won't differentiate between terrorists and states harboring them, and Sharon translates that thus: The Palestinian Authority in effect provides safe haven to Hamas, so Arafat has become the Taliban."

In Israel, that rationale is gaining ground. In an op-ed published Monday in the Ma'ariv daily, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote: "We must say to Arafat exactly what the Americans said to the Taliban: 'Stop the terror or you will be removed from power.' They didn't stop. They were removed."

The White House isn't going that far - at least not yet and not publicly. "Clearly, Chairman Arafat has committed himself over the course of events in recent years to a set of peaceful steps," something Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar did not do, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday. …

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