Slowly, too slowly, Israelis are beginning to realize that the Palestinians are waging war, a war that is now entering its 11th month. Some preferred to believe that it was only the Muslim fanatics among the Palestinians that were intent on killing Jews, or that the participation in the violence by Palestinians under the direct orders of Yasser Arafat was at most marginal. Or, that possibly Arafat was really our partner in fighting Hamas and the Islamic Jihad and eventually our partner in making peace between Jews and Palestinians.
But with every funeral of victims of Palestinian violence, there seem to be fewer Israelis who put any faith in Arafat and more who conclude that it is Arafat with the troops under his command aided by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad who is waging a war against Israel.
This war is daily claiming innocent Israeli victims, many of them women and children. There can be no disagreement that it is the Israeli government's foremost task to put an end to the killing.
And yet, Shimon Peres remains unconvinced. He still claims that negotiations with Arafat hold the key to ending the violence and threatens to leave the government if he is not permitted to meet with Arafat. He refuses to be confused by the facts - his mind is made up.
But for most Israelis, after a string of disappointments, Arafat has revealed himself for what he really is. His word is worthless and his credo is violence. He is not a partner for peace with Israel, and force must be used to counter his violent acts.
Seeking the support of the international community, the government has been restrained in using force against the Palestinian militias while the killing continued month after month. Even after the Dolphinarium massacre, the government decided that the best response was no response. As should have been expected, the sympathy that Israel enjoyed in the aftermath was short-lived.
It is in this context that the government's response to the next major act of Palestinian terror - the bombing of the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem that claimed 15 lives - should be judged. Advertised by government spokesmen as a brilliant move to impose a "political penalty" on Arafat, the takeover of Orient House seems to make little sense as a deterrent measure against further acts of terror. What is the connection between the outrage committed and the takeover of a building by the police in Jerusalem? Does anybody really believe that the takeover of Orient House will lead Arafat to call off his campaign of violence?
In any case, it was the activity pursued in Orient House that was illegal and not the building itself, and it is the people engaged in illegal activities there and in Abu Dis who should have been arrested and put on trial long ago. Using the massacre at the Sbarro restaurant as the trigger to attempt to put an end to Arafat's illegal activities in Jerusalem seems at the very least inappropriate and is in no way commensurate with the crime committed by the Hamas suicide bomber in Jerusalem.
There is no alternative to using the IDF to suppress Palestinian violence and terrorism. If, after the latest terrorist acts, there are still those in the international community who fail to see that the Israeli government at this juncture has no choice but to use force against the Palestinian militias and terrorist groups in defense of its citizens, no demonstrations of restraint by Israel are going to convince them. In any case, it is wrong to base Israel's strategy on reprisals for Palestinian acts of terror. It is not a matter of returning blow for blow. No reprisal for an individual act of terror is going to prevent the next atrocity. It is their ability to commit acts of violence and terror that has to be neutralized. Much more than symbolic acts like taking over Orient House will be needed to win this war.
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