The difference between Palestinian terrorists and Israeli soldiers was highlighted Wednesday when a suicide bomber targeted civilians aboard a crowded rush-hour bus just hours after 13 Israeli soldiers were killed in Jenin during a house-to-house search for terrorists to minimize civilian casualties.
The suicide attack, in which at least eight Israelis were killed and 14 injured on a Haifa-to-Jerusalem public bus, is evidence that Israel’s military campaign to destroy the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure must continue, Israeli officials were expected to tell U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell upon his arrival late this week.
image2goeshere The Bush administration has been pressing Israel to immediately begin withdrawing from Palestinian controlled territory it began moving into March 29 following a suicide bombing that killed 27 Israelis two days earlier at a seder in Netanya. On Tuesday, Israeli troops moved to the outskirts of two towns in which they said they completed their operations: Tulkarm and Qalqilya.
“Our message is that Israel is out there not to reoccupy the Palestinian territories but to protect our people,” said Gideon Meir, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director general for media and public affairs. “We had 10 days of quiet when there were no suicide bombers and families could go out and walk the streets. Suddenly we felt the Israel Defense Forces were protecting us. But this suicide attack only shows we have to stay to protect the Israeli people.”
image3goeshere Support for Israel will be the message conveyed by tens of thousands of Jews as they converge in Washington on Monday to let their voices be heard by the White House and members of Congress. It will be the first major rally in behalf of Israel since the Palestinian violence began 18 months ago. Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the event and promised to be there. Zalman Shoval, Israel’s former ambassador to Washington, said that although the American Jewish community “may have been a bit slow [to react] … it’s better late than never.”
Powell was expected to ask Israel to begin political discussions with the Palestinians in tandem with cease-fire talks, something both Israel and the Bush administration have previously opposed. And Powell was expected to say the U.S. would be willing to station observers on the ground to monitor an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reportedly told a leadership group of the United Jewish Communities in Jerusalem Tuesday that any meeting Powell had with Arafat would be a “tragic mistake. Any meeting like this would only encourage him and has never brought him to stop the terror. I told President George Bush, Powell and Vice President Dick Cheney that we understand the U.S. has a problem in the region and that we support its steps in the war against terror, but we cannot help in ways that would endanger the lives of our citizens and the security of Israel.”
City officials in Raanana, between Tel Aviv and Haifa, reportedly decided to cancel Independence Day celebrations next Wednesday, saying: “This is not the time of place to hold any events with a festive atmosphere.”
Shoval said he learned in discussions he had with administration officials in Washington this week that the U.S. was still considering an attack against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and believed Arab and European support for it would not be forthcoming until the Israeli-Palestinian crisis was resolved.
“Some of the [pro-Palestinian] demonstrations in Arab countries are artificial, inspired from above to back up a diplomatic offensive to put pressure on Israel,” he said. “But many of the people I have been speaking to look at the results, whether the demonstrations are artificial or not, and they would like to get this out of the way so it would not give the Arabs a pretext to put obstacles in the way of America’s plans for Iraq.”
Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, said that on the eve of Powell’s visit there were reports that the Bush administration believes it may have been premature for Powell to have agreed visit Palestinian President Yasir Arafat before U.S. Middle East envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni extracted concessions from him.
“If Powell sees Arafat and doesn’t get anything out of him, it will be a total failure,” Steinberg said. “If he gets a cease-fire statement — which he will most likely get — Arafat is also likely to say he can’t implement it because he no longer has any forces. But that is not true because [Mohammed] Dahlan’s forces in Gaza are untouched. He continues to run Gaza, which on a broad scale has been quiet for at least two weeks.”
Dahlan is Arafat’s security chief in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli officials are also expected to tell Powell that conditions have changed since Sharon pledged at a White House meeting in February to act with restraint against the Palestinians and to keep a low profile to avoid interfering with American plans to attack Hussein.
“That all changed after the seder suicide bombing,” Steinberg said. “Sharon could not continue to allow that level of killing to continue without responding.”
But during a meeting Wednesday in Madrid, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, Powell and representatives of the European Union and Russia issued a joint statement calling upon Israel to immediately withdraw its troops from all Palestinian areas and for both sides to implement an immediate cease-fire. They also called upon Arafat to do what he could to halt attacks against civilians.
That same day, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the European Union to impose trade sanctions against Israel because of its military offensive in the territories. Foreign ministers of the 15-nation EU will meet next week to consider the resolution, which is not binding.
The action was seen in Israel as a reprisal for Sharon’s refusal to permit the EU’s foreign minister, Javier Solana, to meet with Arafat last week while allowing Zinni to see him.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed in a meeting here with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Tuesday that Israel is using ground forces in the Palestinian areas specifically to limit civilian casualties. He noted that the U.S. and Britain in their war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan did not use ground forces but rather air attacks.
Although the government of Israel has not decided how to treat Arafat except to confine him in his compound in Ramallah, Netanyahu said he still advocated expelling him from the region, eliminating all other terrorists and then imposing a separation between Israeli and Palestinian towns and villages.
“The combination of those three things I believe can seriously reduce tensions,” he said. “The government is now doing the second of those in the face of unjust condemnation.”
Asked who would provide a social welfare network for the Palestinians if the Palestinian Authority were destroyed, Netanyahu replied: “Someone will fill the vacuum, and that new regime will know that if it espouses terrorism, it will be thrown out.”
He said he would like to see the U.S. lead the international community in fostering democracy among the Palestinians and that elections should be held under the watchful eyes of monitors to assure their reliability.
“If you want to dismantle the terrorist network, you have to infuse different values and a way of looking at life,” he said. “My view is that there should be an American projection of a civil society among the Palestinians. It’s not merely a question of who will administer the water pumps but must be a stop to poisoning the minds of young Palestinians. It’s impossible to change as long as Arafat is there.”
He noted that a 10-year-old boy wearing an explosive belt was responsible for killing many of the 13 Israeli reserve soldiers during an ambush Tuesday in the Jenin refugee camp, though that has not been verified. A total of 23 Israeli soldiers were killed in Jenin, in which soldiers found 1,000 Kalishnikov rifles, 12 bomb-making factories, and apprehended “hundreds and hundreds of people who were acting to dispatch terrorists.”
Meir, the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said the Palestinians were claiming their people were massacred by Israeli troops in Jenin. Reports said that there were as many as 250 Palestinians killed in Jenin.
“If we wanted to massacre them, we would have used helicopters and airplanes” to drop bombs, he said. “Palestinian television reported that there had been courageous resistance by the Palestinians. That could not have happened had there been a massacre.”
Sharon called the fighting in Jenin “a battle for survival of the Jewish people, for survival of the State of Israel.”
The head of the IDF’s Central Command, Maj. Gen. Yitzchak Eitan was quoted as saying that the Jenin camp held an “infrastructure of suicide bombers.”