April 5, 2001
Taking off the Gloves
Israelis find common ground standing firm against Arab violence.
Six months into the Palestinian uprising, Israeli doves and hawks are displaying a rare unity in the face of repeated Palestinian onslaughts.
Palestinian attacks in recent days on two settlement enclaves left two Israeli babies among the victims -- one, a 10-month-old girl, dead; the other, a 15-month-old boy, gravely wounded -- but the attacks did not produce the once-familiar calls from the Israeli left to dismantle the settlements.
The first attack took place March 26, when a Palestinian sniper killed Shalhevet Pass, picking her off as her father wheeled her in a stroller by a Jewish playground in the West Bank city of Hebron.
On Tuesday, in the Atzmona community in the Gaza Strip, a 15-month-old boy was seriously injured after being hit by shrapnel in a Palestinian mortar attack on the settlement. The mother also was hurt, though less seriously than her child.
On Wednesday, Israeli doctors reported an "impressive" improvement following surgery in the condition of Ariel Yered, who had arrived at a local hospital without a discernible pulse.
In times gone by, the attacks would have left Israeli doves demanding the dismantlement of isolated settlements -- to avoid "provoking" Palestinian anger -- and hawks urging that they be strengthened to show Palestinians that violence is futile.
Such debate now seems anachronistic.
Both groups now roundly blame Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian leadership for the lack of a peaceful solution or of progress toward one, and for the spiraling violence that has claimed 72 Jewish lives since late September.
This unity appears to be stiffening the public's resolve in the face of daily Palestinian suicide bombings, ambushes, stonings and firefights. Sharon's decisions on how to strike back at Palestinian violence -- which in recent days have involved a marked military escalation on Israel's part -- have encountered little resistance in the political center, though the right is clamoring for a sterner response.
On Sunday, the IDF crossed into an area under Palestinian Authority control and abducted six members of Arafat's Force 17 presidential guard, charging them with cooperating with Palestinian militants in planning terror attacks against Israelis.
On Tuesday, Israel released three of the men, but the point had been made. As the IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz said, Israel would no longer take lines on the map into account "in our strikes against the terrorists."
Sharon and Ben-Eliezer also have ordered the use of helicopter gunships, despite an earlier pledge from Ben-Eliezer not to deploy them.
Following a wave of bombings in Israeli cities, helicopters were used March 28 to rocket Force 17 targets in Gaza and the West Bank city Ramallah. On Monday, their rockets were used again to kill a leading Islamic Jihad militant in southern Gaza.
On Tuesday, helicopters rocketed a Palestinian naval police base, a Force 17 facility and a compound shared by several Palestinian security services, all in Gaza.
The same day, Sharon rejected an Egyptian-Jordanian proposal for resuming Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak presented the proposal Monday during a meeting with President Bush at the White House, but Sharon, who received it through unofficial channels, sees it as an attempt to renew negotiations while Palestinian violence continues -- something he has repeatedly vowed not to do.
As with his other recent actions, Sharon's rejection met with broad public support.
His basic position -- that shooting must stop before talks can resume -- appears to jibe with the public mood, which is determined not to reward Palestinian violence.