Israel will continue to target attackers, Netanyahu tells Blair

Israel will continue to attack the groups that fire rockets on her citizens, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu's statement Monday morning during a meeting with Mideast Quartet envoy Tony Blair came after Israeli airstrikes targeted what the Israel Defense Forces described as “launching squads” in two locations in the northern Gaza Strip. Two Palestinian men were killed in the strikes. Hamas' military wing claimed one as a fighter and Islamic Jihad claimed the other as a fighter in its militia, according to the Palestinian Maan news agency. At least two others were reported injured.

The IDF said the attacks were in response to mortar shell fire at a routine IDF patrol on the border with northern Gaza, near the Israeli kibbutz of Nir Am.

“We've got Hamas, supported by Iran, firing rockets at us. They’ve fired again. We're not going to let anyone arm themselves and fire rockets on us and think that they can do this with impunity,” Netanyahu said. “They're not going to get away with it. We attacked them before, we attacked them after and we're going to prevent them from arming themselves. This is our policy.”

Also Monday, five Kassam rockets were fired at the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, with no injuries or damage reported, according to Ynet.

Since the beginning of this year, more than 500 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip hit Israel, including over 50 during October alone, according to the IDF.

Flawed Proceedings in the Hague

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague will rule on the legality of Israel’s security barrier some day soon, and it will rule against Israel. Israel’s advocates will complain about the double standard of condemning Israel’s defensive measures when horrific violations of international law — including the Palestinian terror attacks that led Israel to build the barrier — go unremarked. What many fail to appreciate, however, is how a flaw in the ICJ’s procedural rules make such a double standard possible.

The problem lies in the ICJ’s “advisory opinion” procedure. An advisory opinion is a legal opinion that answers an abstract legal question. Many judicial systems (for example, the U.S. federal court system) will not allow judges to issue advisory opinions: the requirement of parties submitting a real, concrete dispute for resolution is considered an important reality check on judicial power. The ICJ’s charter, however, allows the United Nations and a variety of its agencies to pose questions to the ICJ and get a nonbinding advisory answer in response. Here, the U.N. General Assembly posed the question: “What are the legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the Occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem?”

The main vice of the ICJ’s advisory opinion procedure is how it can be used selectively, based on nothing more than politics, as a tool against particular countries. There is no requirement that the opinion-making power of the ICJ must be applied evenly against all international actors. No one has asked for an advisory opinion about the “legal consequences of sending, or failing to stop, suicide bombers, to kill civilians in Israel.” And although most legal scholars agreed that the U.S.-led war against Iraq violated international law, no one sent the ICJ a question about the “legal consequences of a preemptive war against Iraq.” No one has sought an advisory opinion about Sudan’s ongoing displacement of millions of its own citizens and its murder of over 10,000 civilians. Instead, in one of those terrible ironies that U.N. attitudes towards Israel tend to foster, Sudan has submitted its own brief to the ICJ, solemnly arguing that Israel has violated its “obligations and responsibilities … under International Humanitarian Law.”

The advisory opinion procedure does not require the consent of the country that is the subject of the question. This contrasts markedly from most cases the ICJ has decided. In the so-called “contentious matters” — actual lawsuits between two countries — that make up the bulk of cases on the ICJ’s docket, there is a strict requirement that the parties must have consented to the court’s jurisdiction. This important procedural rule safeguards the court’s legitimacy by ensuring that the court is opining only when there is a real, legal reason for it do so. By contrast, the advisory opinion process can be invoked at any time in the discretion of the U.N. General Assembly. While the procedure has been used relatively rarely — in the 59 years of its existence, the ICJ has issued only 24 advisory opinions — the unique rules governing advisory opinions can be manipulated so that the court is being used for nakedly political goals. There is no procedural safeguard that prevents the U.N. General Assembly, a famously anti-Israel body, from submitting a question to the ICJ specifically designed to embarrass or discredit Israel.

The ICJ does have the power to reject a request for an advisory opinion where the request is posed for political reasons or will have negative effects on ongoing negotiations. Here, not only Israel, but the United States, the European Union, Russia, Australia and 14 other countries have asked the ICJ not to intervene in this dispute on these grounds. But it is difficult to believe that the ICJ will restrain itself from opining on the issue. It is hard for any court to resist the temptation to make legal history. This is especially true where, as one ICJ press release notes about the current proceedings against Israel, there is “exceptional interest in this case shown by the general public, civil society and the media worldwide.” In its entire history, the ICJ has never refused to respond to an advisory opinion request on the grounds that doing so would meddle in politics or interfere with negotiations.

The advisory opinion procedure can be used selectively in a way that makes it a weapon, not a legitimate way to institute a court proceeding. Israel’s adversaries are seeking an advisory opinion as part of a multipronged offensive against Israel, not as a true request for legal guidance. The ICJ should not be used as a pawn in a political conflict, but that is exactly what is happening. The biggest casualty of an opinion in this matter may be the long-term legitimacy of the ICJ itself.

Joseph M. Lipner is a Los Angeles attorney.

Gaza Terrorists Target Americans

Any doubts about the close link between the war on terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have gone the way of a U.S. jeep loaded with diplomats on a dusty Gaza highway.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Wednesday’s roadside bombing, which killed three American security agents and wounded a junior official from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. But it had all the hallmarks of Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israeli vehicles, and it set a new precedent for Palestinian violence.

President Bush blamed the Palestinian Authority for not cracking down on terrorist groups, despite numerous pledges to do so.

"Palestinian authorities should have acted long ago to fight terror in all its forms," Bush said in a written statement Wednesday. Their failure to do so, he said, "continues to cost lives."

An unwillingness to reform P.A. security forces and dismantle terrorist groups "constitutes the greatest obstacle to achieving the Palestinian people’s dream of statehood," Bush said, blaming P.A. President Yasser Arafat for hindering reforms.

The dead Americans were identified as John Branchizio, 37, of Texas; Mark Parson, 31, of New York; and John Martin Linde, 30, of Missouri. The three were on contract to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv through the defense contracting company Dyncorp, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said.

U.S. officials expressed outrage at the bombing.

In a phone call with P.A. Prime Minister Ahmed Karia, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the Palestinians could not move toward statehood "without eliminating violence and terrorism."

FBI investigators are being dispatched to the region, U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer told reporters in Tel Aviv.

The Israeli army sent tanks and armored vehicles, under cover of a helicopter gunship, to help the Americans evacuate the wounded man and the bodies of the victims.

Embassy officials who arrived on the scene to document the wreckage had barely managed to pull out their cameras when they were attacked by stone-throwing youths from the nearby Jabalya refugee camp. The Americans beat a hasty retreat as Palestinian police fired in the air to disperse the crowd.

Kurtzer’s cultural attaché was in the convoy, which was on its way to meet with Palestinian candidates for Fulbright scholarships to U.S. universities.

"It remains to be seen" if the program will be suspended in Palestinian areas, Kurtzer said.

According to Palestinian sources, Fulbright alumni in Gaza had been instructed not talk to the press as a probe began. That was an indication that authorities were covering all angles of an ambush that clearly targeted U.S. diplomats, a first for this round of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Arafat called the bombing an "ugly crime" and pledged to find the culprits. So did Karia.

Analysts did not expect the attack to affect U.S. commitment to the "road map" peace plan. But, they said, if the Palestinians fails to find the culprits, it could erode any remaining U.S. confidence in P.A. anti-terror efforts.

Palestinian terrorist groups sought to distance themselves from the attack.

"We view it as inappropriate to target Europeans, Americans or any nationality other than the occupation forces [of Israel,]" an Islamic Jihad leader, Nafez Azzam, told Reuters.

While Washington weighed its options, Israeli officials made clear that they do not consider this a random act of bloodshed but, if anything, a blood bond between two old allies.

"It’s not just because of U.S. support for Israel as such, but it is because of what Israel and the United States both together stand for," Sharon adviser Ra’anan Gissin said of the motives for the attack.

"They stand for life, for liberty, for democracy here, for pursuing peace," he said. "These victims are victims because of the gallant and very courageous policies that President Bush has been carrying to try and promote peace and hope to the people of the Middle East."

Targeted Killings’ Other Casualties

Killing Hamas leaders wounds the terrorist group, Israeli and Palestinian officials agree. At question is whether moderate Palestinians — and U.S. influence in the region — are also casualties of Israel’s targeted strikes.

Israel has killed at least 11 leaders of Hamas since the group claimed responsibility for a deadly Jerusalem bus bombing on Aug. 19, which killed 21 people, including at least five children.

Israel declared "all-out war" against the group after the bus bombing.

The new frequency of the killings — and the targeting of political as well as military leaders — have led some to wonder whether the Bush administration’s "road map" peace plan, which envisions an end to terrorism and a Palestinian state within three years, is still viable.

"It has a serious effect on the Hamas leadership, on the one hand," Edward Abington, a former U.S. diplomat who now lobbies for the Palestinians in Washington, said of the killings.

On the other hand, he said, "it undermines U.S. credibility on the road map."

Abington said the killings would shift moderate Arab regimes — key to the Bush administration’s plans not only for Israelis and Palestinians, but for Iraq — away from support for the United States.

"Israel is assassinating left and right, and the appearance is that the United States is acquiescing," Abington said.

The lack of moderate Arab support in 2000 helped scuttle the Camp David talks when Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat refused to take painful steps — such as conceding parts of Jerusalem — knowing he would be on his own.

Israelis say that defeating Hamas ultimately could remove the extremist yoke that has held back the Palestinian leadership until now.

"Hamas has no interest in any political solution," said Dore Gold, a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "Israel would have preferred the Palestinian Authority to handle Hamas, but they have consistently refused to meet their road map responsibilities and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure."

In any case, the Hamas attacks — and Israeli retaliation — may mean that the United States fundamentally has to reassess its policies in the region.

"American policy is now in a shambles, the road map no longer seems viable, the cease-fire is in tatters," said Nathan Brown, a Middle East expert at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

If the United States has problems with the intensity of Israel’s reaction, its public expressions have been muted at best.

"Israel has a right to defend herself, but Israel needs to take into account the effect that actions they take have on the peace process," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said after Israel killed top Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab in a rocket attack on Aug. 21.

Shanab was a political leader who helped broker the recent cease-fire, signed onto by the main Palestinian terrorist groups, which led to a brief period of calm. His killing came just two months after Israel attempted to kill Hamas spokesman and senior member Abdel Aziz Rantissi.

Any American attempt to distinguish between political and military leaders runs the risk of hypocrisy, said Matthew Levitt, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"We don’t make a distinction between Osama bin Laden and his foot soldiers, even though bin Laden is not the trigger puller," Levitt said. "Those who commit acts of terrorism and those who order them carried out are just as culpable."

Gold said that political leaders and spokesmen serve the same tactical ends as bombmakers.

"Israel does not accept the argument that there is a difference between the political and military wings of Hamas," he said. "The U.S. used to be very concerned when Al Qaeda spokesmen would appear on Al-Jazeera because they could have had operational messages mixed into their language. The same is true for Hamas spokesmen like Rantissi."

Targeting political leaders is not new: Israel made no distinctions between political and military officials in its famous action against Black September after the killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Still, Israel’s recent intensity against Hamas is unprecedented in the way it has confronted the 3-year-old intifada.

Levitt, a former FBI analyst, said there is a tactical advantage to maintaining the intensity of the attacks.

"Having a situation in which all of Hamas has to go underground, moving it from desktops to laptops, is a significant blow to its ability to carry out operations," he said.

Abington agreed that is true in the short term — but is worried that ultimately the targeted killings would only reinforce the militant group.

"It undermines Abu Mazen," Abington said, using the popular name for Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

"One reason he has been reluctant to take moves against Hamas is because he thinks the Palestinian street does not support him. Assassinations only inflame support for Hamas."

It was a point echoed by Brown,

"From the Israeli perspective, it’s clear that suicide bombing depends first on capability, and also on a social environment that makes it possible," Brown said. "Assassination targets the first, but makes the second worse."

Still, Brown said, "It strikes me that the killings are motivated by the lack of other options."

Bombing Follows Thwarted Attacks

A suicide bus bombing in Haifa has shattered a relative
period of calm in Israel and served as a stark reminder to a country bracing
for the possible implications of a U.S.-led war against Iraq.

With the United States stepping up military and diplomatic preparations
for a possible strike against Iraq, much of Israel was focused this week on
when a war might break out and whether it would affect Israel. But the focus
changed abruptly Wednesday when at least 15 people were killed and more than 30
wounded in a suicide bombing on a Haifa bus.

Heftziba Shetreet, who was in a building opposite the
bombing site, described the initial moments of confusion after she heard the

“In the first few seconds, we thought the war had started,”
she told Israel Radio. “We felt the explosion right above our heads. Within
seconds we realized that there was a terrorist attack. We went outside and saw
the bus, completely scorched, cloaked in smoke and the wounded strewn all over.
Without thinking, we immediately ran to help them.” 

It was the first time terrorists had succeeded in carrying
out a suicide bombing in Israel since Jan. 5, when 23 people were killed, some
of them foreign workers, after two suicide bombers launched an attack near Tel
Aviv’s old Central Bus Station. But Israeli security and political officials
stressed that the feeling of quiet was only an illusion, and that Israel has
thwarted numerous attempted bombings since the Tel Aviv attack.

Ya’acov Borovsky, the police chief of the Northern district,
noted that there were some 50 alerts for possible terrorist attacks across Israel
on Wednesday, but no specific warnings of an impending bombing in Haifa.
Immediately following the bombing, police in other Northern communities went on
alert for a possible attempt by terrorist groups to stage a string of attacks,
Channel 2 television reported. 

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the
attack. But Hamas and Islamic Jihad praised the bombing, saying it came in
response to Israeli military actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The
attack was the first since the new Israeli government took office, but there
was no immediate indication that the Cabinet would adopt a policy different
from that of the previous government.

As he has done following previous acts of terror, Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon blamed the Palestinian Authority for the bombing, saying
it had done nothing to stop such attacks.

Interior Minister Avraham Poraz of the Shinui Party, a new
member of the Security Cabinet, said Israel should not dramatically alter its
response to terrorist attacks. 

“We must continue to fight terrorism all the time,” he told
Army Radio. “There is no difference between an attempted attack — and there are
many of these — and an attack that succeeds.

“We should not act with an intent for revenge,” he
continued. “We must keep constant pressure on the Palestinians until the
moderates understand that they must put pressure on the extremists.”

Political sources were quoted as saying that the relative
quiet of recent weeks was the direct result of the Israeli army’s ongoing
anti-terrorist activities by in the West Bank and Gaza. The United States and
Britain were among foreign nations condemning the attack.

President Bush “stands strongly with the people of Israel in
fighting terrorism, and his message to terrorists is that their efforts will
not be successful,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Earlier this week, both the United States and Britain had
criticized Israel for harming Palestinian civilians during anti-terror
operations in the Gaza Strip.

Following the attack, Army Radio quoted Palestinians as
reporting that Israeli tanks entered Jenin. Israel Radio reported that troops
had arrested a senior Hamas militant in Ramallah.

In Wednesday’s attack, the Egged bus was about halfway
through its route from the city’s Central Bus Station to Haifa University, at
the tip of Mt. Carmel, when the explosion took place. The powerful blast blew
off the roof, leaving the frame of the bus as charred, twisted metal. Borovsky
said the terrorist apparently boarded the bus several stops before detonating
the bomb.

The bus driver, who was lightly wounded, said he noticed
nothing suspicious prior to the explosion. 

“I pulled up to the stop and opened the doors and suddenly
there was an explosion,” Marwan Darmouni recalled. “Then I didn’t feel
anything. When I opened my eyes, everything was destroyed, there was blood on
my hands. I tried to get off the bus, and everyone was trying to phone the police
and evacuate the wounded.” 

Darmouni, an Israeli Arab from the town of Shfaram, said
that security guards assigned to public transportation usually get on his bus,
but that he hadn’t seen any on Wednesday.

“It’s sad,” Darmouni’s father told Israel’s Channel 10
television. The terrorists “don’t differentiate between blood and blood.”  

Thinking Twice About War

On a single day during Passover 1986, most of Israel’s major dailies ran oddly identical front-page stories describing a secret negotiation, recently collapsed, between Israel and Iraq. Iraq, it was said, had approached Israeli representatives in New York, asking that Jerusalem switch its covert support from Iran to Iraq in the war between them. In return, Iraq would exchange ambassadors with Israel after it won the war. Israel reportedly demanded recognition now, not later, and then ended the contacts abruptly after Washington caught wind of them.

Nothing further was reported. Israeli officials questioned about it responded, even years later, with studied, bristling silence. But in the spring of 2000, during not-so-secret Israeli-Palestinian talks leading up to Camp David, Israeli papers again reported Iraq-Israel contacts. Baghdad was said to be offering to absorb 300,000 Palestinian refugees from Lebanon if Israel would speak for Iraq in Washington and help soften American hostility. This time, Israel reportedly backed away even without being told.

No, the stories aren’t confirmed, but there is a telling logic to them. They echo something we’ve known all along about Saddam Hussein but often forget: that he is a cynical, power-hungry tyrant who believes in nothing — not even in anti-Zionism. The butcher of Baghdad is capable of virtually anything, including cozying up to Israel one day and attacking it the next.

Alas, America’s mostly one-sided public debate over Hussein has generated more heat than light in recent months. He’s been called a reckless adventurer, a wily survivor, a cynical tyrant, a ruthless fanatic. He can’t be all that. A wily survivor isn’t reckless, and a cynic isn’t fanatical. In fact, the Iraqi tyrant is an opportunistic thug who will do whatever suits his purposes, if he thinks he can get away with it. Above all, he’s a survivor.

The Washington hawks demanding war with Baghdad depict Hussein as something different: a dedicated extremist who’s committed to defeating Israel and the West, whatever the cost. There are forces in the region who fit that description, but their address isn’t Baghdad. It’s Tehran.

America’s attention has been riveted for months on Hussein and his efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, which may have yielded, according to current Israeli intelligence, some stocks of chemicals, some rudimentary biological weapons and very few usable launchers. All the while, Iran has been working unhindered on building a nuclear bomb. This week, it reportedly brought two new nuclear facilities online, a heavy water plant and a nuclear fuel plant. Iran’s mullahs say they wouldn’t mind starting a nuclear war with Israel. They might survive and Israel wouldn’t. Anyway, survival isn’t their thing. They’re holy warriors. Iran is where Israel’s nightmares take shape.

It’s true that Hussein is a very bad guy. He’s gassed his own people and attacked two of his neighbors. The world would be a better place without him. But the same could be said of a host of dictators past and present who have threatened neighbors and massacred their own populations, sometimes over our objections, sometimes with our financial backing.

So why Hussein? The fact is, some folks just want action, and with communism gone, Baghdad may just be a handy new target.

They’re not wrong to want him gone. But an American attack isn’t necessarily wise. It could splinter Iraq, vastly strengthen Iran and cripple Turkey. Worse, it could bring a catastrophic attack on Israel, leaving thousands dead and inviting an Israeli reply that might spell nuclear winter. Would that make the world a better place?

War hawks point to Munich 1938, when the free world faced a tyrant and blinked. But Hitler was explicitly bent on conquering the world and eradicating entire populations, and as head of a great industrial power he had the means to do so. Hussein is more like Stalin circa 1946, a corrupt thug terrorizing the cowed populace of a backward nation.

After defeating Hitler, the West looked east and properly decided Stalin was best contained, not crushed. That was the approach the Clinton administration took in 1993 with its "dual containment" policy — albeit inadequately enforced — toward Iraq and Iran.

If there’s now a case to be made for abandoning patience and risking world cataclysm, we’re waiting to hear it. So is the rest of the world, beginning with our European allies and the moderate Arab states. They have at least as much at stake as we do in stabilizing the Middle East and avoiding nuclear Armageddon.

World Briefs

‘Gaza First’ Plan OK’d by P.A.

The Palestinian Cabinet gave preliminary approval Wednesday to an Israeli plan for a troop withdrawal from some areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Under the plan, Israeli soldiers would withdraw from parts of Gaza and the West Bank city of Bethlehem in exchange for Palestinian guarantees that no attacks would be launched from these areas. Further withdrawals would take place if peace holds in these first areas. Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer presented the “Gaza First” plan during a meeting with Palestinian officials earlier in the week. The Palestinian Cabinet’s approval of the plan was contingent on further Israeli-Palestinian meetings. The development came as a delegation of Palestinian officials left for talks with Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington.

Couple Killed in West Bank Ambush

An Israeli husband and wife were killed and their toddler son wounded in a Palestinian ambush Sunday night. Avi Volanski, 29, and his pregnant wife, Avital, 27, were killed when gunmen opened fire on their car as they were traveling on a West Bank road to their home in the settlement of Eli. The couple’s 3-year-old son was moderately wounded. Their 8-month-old son, who was also in the car, was unharmed. Including the Volanskis, 13 people were killed in a series of Palestinian terror attacks Sunday.

U.S. Consulate Cites Security Concerns

The State Department is planning to move part of the U.S. Consulate out of eastern Jerusalem for security reasons. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Tuesday that several offices may move to the western part of the city. The consul general’s office, however, is expected to remain there. The consulate primarily deals with relations with the Palestinian Authority.

Democrats Seeking Israel Aid

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) is urging President Bush to sign a bill that would give Israel $200 million in aid. Last week, both houses of Congress authorized the bill, which also calls for an additional $50 million in aid for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. “President Bush should sign this legislation,” said Ira Foreman, NJDC’s executive director. “If the president fails to back his rhetoric with action, the rest of the world will receive a poor message concerning U.S. support for the State of Israel.”

Jews Mixed on Voucher Ruling

Jewish groups gave a mixed reaction to a decision that ruled school vouchers unconstitutional in Florida. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) hailed the ruling, in which a trial court judge ruled Monday that the Florida voucher program violated the state’s constitution, which says no state money can be used, even indirectly, to aid sectarian institutions. But the Orthodox Union, which supports vouchers, said the ruling was not unexpected as many states have ‘anti-religious” provisions in their constitutions, and voucher supporters are working to eliminate those amendments. The ADL and the AJC said the ruling shows the limits of a June decision by the Supreme Court, which said vouchers do not violate the separation of church and state under the Constitution. The two groups said state constitutions can be more restrictive of government funding of private and parochial schools.

N.Y. Jewish Cemetery Vandalized

More than 150 tombstones were toppled and several headstones broken at a century-old cemetery on the New York borough of Staten Island. According to the New York Daily News, Staten Island and local Jewish officials expressed outrage at last week’s attack, which caused an estimated $20,000 in damage. Officials at the Baron Hirsch Cemetery said the 88-acre burial ground was also vandalized earlier this year, and several hundred gravestones were toppled a few years ago.

Clinton: I’d die for Israel

President Clinton told a fund-raiser for a Jewish charity that if Iraq attacked Israel, he would “fight and die” for the Jewish state. Speaking at a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser in Toronto for the Hadassah-Women’s International Zionist Organization children’s charity, Clinton said he ‘would grab a rifle and get in the trench and fight and die” should Iraq mount a land attack on Israel in response to a U.S. attack on Iraq. Clinton added that while he did not think there was a military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ‘I know there’s not a terrorist solution to it” either, the paper reported.

U.S. Cuts Sinai Forces

The Pentagon intends to ‘significantly reduce” the number of Americans involved in an international peacekeeping force in the Sinai Desert. U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith met last week with Israeli and Egyptian defense officials to discuss plans to cut the 800-member American contingent in the 1,900-strong multinational force — perhaps to as few as 50, some defense officials said.

Rally for Israel Will Cost

A plan to bring thousands of Americans to an international Aug. 13 rally in Jerusalem to support Israel hit a snag after promised private financial backing failed to materialize, The Jewish Week of New York reported. While the 72-hour solidarity trip is proceeding, organizers have been forced to backtrack on promised subsidies that would have helped hundreds of people participate at a bargain price of $550 per person, nearly half the full cost of $995. As a result, thousands of potential participants have dropped out, said Robert Miller, a spokesman for Rally in Israel, an ad hoc New Jersey-based interdenominational group headed by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Englewood, N.J. The first 140 participants will pay the $550 price, funded through other sources.

All briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

World Briefs

Amnesty Blasts Suicide Attacks

A report by Amnesty International calls Palestinian terror attacks on Israeli civilians “crimes against humanity.” None of the Israeli military’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip justify Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians, the report added.

Land Bill Stand Reversed

Israel’s Cabinet retracted its support for a bill that could bar Israeli Arabs from owning homes on state-owned land. The Cabinet voted 22-2 Sunday to refer the bill for review by a governmental committee on constitutional affairs. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon defended the decision, saying it could harm Arab-Jewish relations. Last week, the Cabinet created a furor when it voted to back the bill.

Yeshiva Bill Sparks Threat

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers threatened to bolt the Israeli government over a bill granting draft exemptions for yeshiva students. The lawmakers took issue with a provision in the bill requiring yeshiva students to serve 12 days a year in the Civil Guard. Meanwhile, the secular Shinui and Meretz parties threatened to submit no-confidence motions in the government, charging that the bill institutionalizes draft-dodging.

Deri Released on Parole

Aryeh Deri, the former leader of Israel’s Orthodox Shas Party was freed Monday after serving two years of a three-year sentence for accepting bribes and misappropriating state funds. Deri said upon his release that he would fight to clear his name. When granting him early release, a parole board ruled that he cannot enter politics for one year.

Toronto Murder Suspect Arrested

Toronto police arrested Christopher Steven McBride, the prime suspect in the murder of a Chasidic man, late Monday night following a raid on an apartment in the city’s West End. Police soon began to interrogate the prisoner, who is a slight 20-year-old with a shaved head and tattoos.

According to police, David Rosenzweig — a father of six who was wearing a kippah — was approached from behind by two men and a woman early Sunday morning. After one of the men stabbed him in the back, all three assailants fled the scene. While not ruling out that the attack was a hate crime, police said Monday there is no concrete evidence that Rosenzweig was murdered because of his religion.

Bedouin Judge Sworn in

Israel’s first Bedouin judge was sworn in. Nasser Abbed-Taheh, 39, was one of 35 new judges who were sworn in Monday at a ceremony at the president’s residence in Jerusalem.

Paris Exhibit Vandalized

An exhibition in Paris about children who were deported in 1942 by the Nazis was vandalized by a 55-year-old woman. Christiane Castillon, who had no prior police record and is not believed to belong to any extremist organization, explained the July 7 incident by saying that “people make too many allowances for Jews where the Holocaust is concerned.”

Seeds of Peace Founder Dies at 59

John Wallach, the founder of Seeds of Peace, died July 10 of lung cancer at 59. In 1993, Wallach proposed to then-Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres that the group be created to bring Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian youths together on neutral soil in the United States. Each summer since then, hundreds of Israeli and Arab teenagers have gathered in the woods of Maine in an effort to increase mutual understanding.

Shabbat Law Vetoed in Brazil

A law that would have recognized Saturday as a day of rest was vetoed by the governor of a Brazilian state. The bill would have given official recognition to the beliefs of some 12,000 Jews who live in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Following the governor’s veto, a movement has been launched in an effort to reverse that decision.

ADL Provides Workplace Guide

The Anti-Defamation League released a guide detailing U.S. laws on accommodating religious observance in the workplace. “Religious Accommodation in the Workplace” offers employees and employers general information on relevant federal laws. It is available at

Briefs by Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Diplomacy and Skepticism

Middle East diplomacy shifted to New York this week amid widespread skepticism that there is any formula that can convince Israel and the Palestinians to make even slight progress toward peace.

Helping fuel the skepticism were two Palestinian terror attacks that coincided with the diplomatic meetings and claimed the lives of at least 11 Israelis. On Wednesday, two suicide bombers staged an attack in the heart of Tel Aviv, outside a move theater, killing at least three. A day earlier, in an attack similar to one carried out last December, Palestinian terrorists set off a bomb as a bus neared the entrance to the West Bank settlement of Immanuel and then opened fire as people fled the bus.Eight Israelis were killed, including two infants.

Tuesday’s attack came hours before officials from the so-called Quartet the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations — met in New York in an effort to devise a strategy that would help Israel and the Palestinians overcome their seemingly intractable differences.

The parties emerged with a general agreement to follow President Bush’s June 24 call for the evolution of a Palestinian state within three years. But major differences still exist between the United States and the other international mediators on how to get there. Bush had said a provisional state could emerge only after the Palestinians implement serious economic and political reforms. The others seem to disagree.

Another major area of disagreement involves the future status of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. The United States has made it clear that they it wants Arafat out of power — or at least away from the day-to-day responsibilities of running the Palestinian Authority. The Europeans, Russians and U.N. leaders say Arafat is the democratically elected leader of the Palestinian people and therefore should be involved in the reform process.

Indeed, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters after the first round of meetings on Tuesday: "As for Arafat, we all have our respective positions. The U.N. still recognizes Chairman Arafat and we will continue to deal with him until the Palestinians decide otherwise."

Another point of contention is whether initial reform should begin on the security front alone, as the United States argues, or in conjunction with economic and infrastructure reform, as the other international players suggest.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he would like ideally for security, political and economic reform to work in parallel, but the top priority was to get a "better handle" on the security situation. Powell said the CIA is working on a new plan to protect Israel from terrorist attacks. The United States is discussing the security plan with Palestinian officials, Powell added. The other leaders countered that humanitarian and infrastructure reform was necessary to implement security.

Robert Satloff, director of policy and strategic planning for the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, says the Quartet’s communique contradicts much of what Bush outlined in his June speech.

"Although no one should have expected the Quartet to parrot the president’s speech, the fact that its statement contradicts that speech in critical areas is a worrisome sign that disagreements on Middle East policy persist not only among America’s allies, but within the administration itself," Satloff wrote this week in an analysis.

Among the disagreements he notes, is the fact that the Quartet seeks statehood not as the end of negotiations but as the end of implementation of reforms to the Palestinian government, and makes no mention of provisional statehood, as Bush suggested. It also calls for Israel to immediately release tax revenue funds, instead of seeking "honest and accountable hands," as the president suggested.

The State Department entered Tuesday’s meetings seeking a dialogue with its diplomatic partners to determine clear criteria for Palestinian reform. The United States has not drafted such criteria, a State Department official said, but the goal is to announce them by late August. State Department officials said they were also seeking "centralized, transparent accountable Palestinian institutions" and "reciprocal steps by Israel" as the Palestinians move forward with reform.

Much of what emerges from this week’s meetings in New York with the Quartet and with Arab leaders from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan will be utilized by a newly created international task force. The task force, involving the Quartet plus Japan, Norway, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, will seek to implement financial reforms within the Palestinian government.

And while some consensus has been reached by the Quartet on how to move forward, questions remain as to whether Israeli or Palestinian officials will be willing to accept their proposals. To that end, positive signs have emerged. Arab leaders, meeting with Powell on Wednesday, expressed support for the approach the United States has outlined for changes within the Palestinian government.

"Maybe we do not agree on all the details, but we are determined to work together for peace and I think we will succeed to bring peace to this area under the banner of legitimacy, democracy and prosperity for all," said Ahmed Maher, Egypt’s foreign minister.

The Arab leaders, who reportedly were seeking a statehood declaration after the January elections, also seem to have acquiesced to the three-year timetable the United States has proposed. In addition, a senior Palestinian official told the Associated Press on Wednesday that Arafat was considering appointing a prime minister to share day-to-day leadership responsibilities, once a Palestinian state is declared. While Israel was not a participant in this week’s meetings, Israeli officials were watching closely.

"If this is perceived as being Israeli-led, it’s not going to succeed, and we want it to succeed," an Israeli official in Washington said.

In anticipation of the meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent a telegram to Powell outlining the Israeli position. According to reports, Sharon stressed that security is still Israel’s utmost priority.

Sharon’s telegram came on the heels of one sent to Powell by Arafat in which the Palestinian leader spelled out his vision for reforms in the Palestinian Authority. For his part, Sharon has long maintained that there would be no negotiations with the Palestinians as long as violence continues. Sharon has also said that Arafat must be replaced before there can be any meaningful negotiations.

A State Department official said plans are being discussed for another working meeting of the international task force and the Quartet in August, around the time the United States would like to announce its benchmark proposals.

Israel Counts Largest Death Toll

It was a day of funerals, as Israel buried 14 victims from Sunday’s suicide bombing attack in a Haifa restaurant.

Three of Monday’s funerals were from one family, the Rons, who were out having lunch at Matza, their favorite restaurant and a popular Haifa hangout.

Carmit Ron lost her husband, Aviel, her son, Ofer, 17, and daughter, Anat, 21, in the tremendous blast.

Anat had recently completed her army duty and had just returned from an extended trip to the United States, where she had worked with special-needs children.

Ofer was a senior in high school, and would have entered the army during the summer.

"I knew they liked to eat at the Matza restaurant," said Eldar Imnov, a friend of Ofer’s. "When I heard there had been an attack, I called. They didn’t answer their cellular and then I realized that they were there."

A third of the Israeli victims in the 18-month intifada were killed in March: more than125 Israelis, including civilians and security personnel. It is the largest number of Israelis ever killed in one month, not including wars.

Carlos Wegman, 50, another Matza regular, was also a victim of the deadly suicide bombing in Haifa.

A native Argentine who immigrated to Israel in 1973, Wegman had two daughters, Dana, 23, and Maya, 21. Maya said she knew her father was there when she watched the report on television and saw her father’s car with a sticker that she had once placed on the vehicle.

Wegman had planned to marry his girlfriend this summer, a "wonderful partner for him," said a friend.

More than one set of dreams was dashed by the bombing that took place on Sunday afternoon, during the Passover holiday.

Danielle Mantzal, 22, had planned to study in Rome, where she lived until the age of 10 with her parents, Nurit and Doron. She was at the restaurant for a quick lunch after studying for her university entrance exams.

"She worked, she studied and she was in love," her mother told Yediot Achronot. "She was planning on studying in Rome, like her father."

Orly Ophir, 15, a rising soccer star, was eating at the restaurant with her mother and two sisters. She was severely wounded during the bombing and died later at the hospital.

When her father, Yossi, first heard about a bombing, he didn’t think it could be at Matza because it is owned by Israeli Arabs from the Haifa area.

But as unlikely as it seemed, a Hamas bomber, Shaadi Tubasi, 22, from a Jenin refugee camp, blew himself up in the restaurant owned by a family of Israeli Arabs.

Tubasi was also an Israeli Arab, on his mother’s side. He held an Israeli identity card, according to the police, although he lived in a Palestinian refugee camp.

The Adawi brothers, from Turan, a village in the western Galilee, have owned and operated Matza for the last 17 years. All three brothers were injured in the bombing.

They hadn’t hired a security guard for the restaurant because they didn’t believe the terror could reach them, Abdullah Adawi said in a newspaper interview.

"Maybe a security guard would have lessened the disaster," Adawi said. "That question will bother me for the rest of my life."

From now on, every place of entertainment must have a security guard, according to an order released Sunday by Israel’s police force.

Until a month ago, only large businesses had to hire security guards. But the Sunday bombing in Haifa convinced the police to expand the order to include smaller places of business as well.

The entire restaurant was destroyed by the blast, ripping apart the ceiling, windows and floor.

One of the restaurant’s waiters, Suhil Adawi, 30, was killed in the attack, and left behind a pregnant wife and 3-year-old son.

"I still can’t believe this actually happened," Rabia Adawi, a nephew of the owners, said in an interview with Israel Radio. "This hurts me like it hurts every Jew who has had a relative die in one of these terrible attacks. It has to stop."

Sharon: No More Words

Trick or treat? That slightly out-of-season challenge reflects Israeli reaction to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s dramatic call on his people for “a complete stop to all armed activities, especially the suicide attacks.”

Analysts noted that it was Arafat’s strongest call yet — in Arabic, on Palestinian television — to end Palestinian terror.

He also mentioned mortar bombing of Israeli settlements which, he claimed, give Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a pretext to strike at the Palestinian Authority. That showed that Arafat’s call extended to the territories as well — and not, as some chagrined Palestinians claimed, only to Israel proper.

However, after Arafat has voiced support for so many cease-fires that never materialized, Sharon did not even deign to react.

Indeed, within hours of the speech Sunday, Palestinian gunmen were again shooting at Israelis in the West Bank and firing mortars in the Gaza Strip. Three Israelis were injured Monday, one seriously, in shooting attacks.

“Israel’s patience with empty words and false promises has run out,” Sharon told French President Jacques Chirac in a phone call Monday. “Israel wants to see actions and results.”

Just 10 days earlier, at Sharon’s behest, the Security Cabinet formally declared Arafat “irrelevant” and forswore further dealings with him.

But in the army and the intelligence community, there is a view that Arafat’s speech might — just might — be a turning point, representing his belated realization of just how precarious his position has become.

Arafat spoke from his office in Ramallah, with Israeli tanks parked less than 300 yards away. Other Israel Defense Force armored units had entered Palestinian-controlled areas in the West Bank and Gaza over the weekend on search-and-arrest missions that made a mockery of Palestinian pretensions to sovereignty in these territories. Israeli helicopters continued to destroy Palestinian security installations.

Perhaps even more sobering, from Arafat’s standpoint, was the fact that the United States was not publicly criticizing the Israeli military moves. It was as though Sharon had a green light from the Bush administration to mangle Arafat’s state-in-the-making.

Worse yet, Arafat’s standing in the international community, which plummeted drastically after a wave of suicide bombings in early December, showed no real signs of recovery.

Even within the Arab world, Arafat could feel his isolation growing. Egypt and Jordan signaled that they, too, are fed up with Arafat’s prevarication and want to see real action against terrorists such as those from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

For Egypt and Jordan, it is not just a matter of the peace process with Israel: The rise of Islamic fundamentalism can spill over into their countries, putting their regimes at risk.

Some Israeli observers therefore say Arafat may have reached a watershed and will finally take meaningful action to quell violence. If he does so, however, he surely will demand a diplomatic quid pro quo — from Israel, the Americans and the international community.

Palestinian officials said early in the week that they had shut dozens of Hamas and Islamic Jihad facilities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and arrested 180 activists.

Sharon’s circle gave little credence to such claims, or to Arafat’s call for an end to violence.

“All bluff,” Finance Minister Silvan Shalom said. “Anyone putting any faith in it will quickly be disappointed.”

Close aides say Sharon wants to resume negotiations with the Palestinians, but not with Arafat. After endless “last chances,” Sharon has concluded that the veteran Palestinian leader is committed to a “strategy of terror.”

In Sharon’s book, Arafat made his strategic choice back in 1993, as soon as the Oslo peace process began. He doggedly built up illegal armed groups alongside the Palestinian Authority police force — which itself was allowed to grow far beyond its legal size — and stockpiled weapons for them.

Moreover, Sharon sees the Hamas and Islamic Jihad activity as part of Arafat’s strategy. Ostensibly in opposition to the Palestinian Authority, the fundamentalist factions are, in effect, active members in Arafat’s “coalition of terror,” Sharon says, a means of bleeding Israel while leaving Arafat ways to profess his innocence.

On Monday, Hamas activists protested Israel’s assassination of a senior militant, Yakoub Dakidak. As Dakidak’s body was paraded through the streets of Hebron, the more militant Palestinian organizations seemed in no mood for peace.

In a manifest released Monday morning, Hamas and Islamic Jihad called upon all Palestinians to continue violence against Israel. Moreover, in interviews with Arab television networks, the groups announced that they refuse to obey Arafat’s order against suicide bombings.

The premier’s aides concede that Sharon promised President Bush not to harm Arafat physically or drive him out of the country. That, they say, is the meaning of the Cabinet’s “irrelevancy” resolution: Arafat will not be attacked directly, but will simply be ignored and rendered meaningless.

The frustration with Arafat now affecting Washington, Europe and Jerusalem is shared even among some in Arafat’s close coterie, Sharon’s aides say.

“We are not going to intervene in who leads the Palestinians,” the aides say. “But we hope he will be succeeded by someone ready to abandon terror, someone we can speak to. Meanwhile, if Arafat does not do the work of stopping terror, Israel will do it instead of him.”

With this kind of mood at the top in Israel, there is little time left for Arafat to prove to the rest of the world — above all to Washington — that this time he is serious.

Despite the U.S. veto on the stationing of international observers in the West Bank, America has myriad means to determine whether, at last, the Palestinian Authority is acting forcefully against terrorist groups. “Revolving-door” jails — in which terrorists are imprisoned with great fanfare, then quietly released shortly afterward — are no longer featured only in Israeli rhetoric; their existence has been confirmed by American, British and other diplomats who will be watching to see if the latest wave of Palestinians arrested actually remain behind bars.

This is a defining moment, both for Arafat and for the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Sharon may be earnest when he talks of his desire to see the last of Arafat. But at the end of the day it will be difficult for him to affect that outcome if the American administration does not agree that Arafat has become dispensable.

JTA Correspondent Aaron Lightman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

World Briefs

Anti-Arafat Complaint Filed in

A group of Israelis filed a complaint against Yasser Arafat in Belgium. The group, called the Terror Victims Association, said the complaint against Arafat and several Palestinian groups, including the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, cited attacks against Israelis dating back to 1974. The action came a day before a Brussels court was due to consider whether to go ahead with a lawsuit brought by Palestinian and Lebanese plaintiffs against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Belgium has a 1993 law on “universal jurisdiction,” which enables Belgian courts to judge atrocities committed elsewhere, regardless of whether or not they involved Belgians. The court is expected to rule in January.

Man Denies Nuclear Trigger Charges

A 72-year-old man pleaded innocent Monday to charges that he exported potential nuclear triggers to Israel. Richard Henry Smyth faces a 30-count indictment involving the alleged export of about $60,000 worth of triggering devices that can be used in nuclear weapons. Smyth is being held without bail. His trial in a federal court in California is set for Jan. 15. Smyth had been awaiting trial on the charges in 1985 when he fled the United States for Spain. He was extradited from Spain earlier this month.

Lawmaker Decries U.N. Meeting

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) asked Secretary of State Colin Powell to speak out against a U.N. meeting. Waxman said Monday he believes the Dec. 5 meeting in Geneva, where the United Nations will discuss alleged Israeli violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention for its treatment of Palestinians, “will inevitably become a new platform for Arab nations to resurrect the viciously anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist declarations” made at previous U.N. forums. Waxman said he hopes Powell will express to Arab leaders that the meeting could pose a serious threat to the Middle East peace process.

Palestinian Faces Deportation

A Palestinian who faces deportation from the United States allegedly has ties to groups linked to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The Justice Department rearrested Mazen al-Najjar over the weekend after a U.S. appeals court ruled that it could deport him for overstaying a student visa in the early 1980s. Najjar, who was previously held for three-and-a-half years on secret evidence, was involved in the World and Islam Studies Enterprise and the Islamic Concern Project. The U.S. government says these groups raise money for Islamic Jihad and Hamas, but Najjar’s lawyers say the groups send money to orphans in Palestinian-ruled areas. Born in the Gaza Strip, Najjar previously taught at a Florida university.

ZOA Names New Director

Milton Sussman was named executive director of the Zionist Organization of America. Formerly the executive director of the Israel Cancer Research Fund, Sussman has also worked for the Anti-Defamation League and B’nai B’rith. He replaces Janice Sokolovsky, who is returning to Israel after a two-year stint in the position.

Controversial Germ an Exhibit

Right-wing protests are expected to greet the reopening of an exhibit in Germany. The exhibit, which details how ordinary German soldiers committed Nazi war crimes, caused an uproar when it was first launched in 1994 because it countered a widely held belief that the army, unlike Hitler’s SS, was not involved in Nazi atrocities. The display closed in 1999 after historians said some photographs showed Soviet security police, not the German army, involved in mass killings. The new exhibit, slated to open Wednesday in Berlin, has less of an emphasis on photography and more on textual sources to make the same point about the Wehrmacht, the wartime German army.

Israel nabs 9 suspected terrorists

Israeli forces arrested nine members of Islamic Jihad in
Hebron. The arrests were made when the forces entered Palestinian-controlled
areas of the West Bank city, according to the Jerusalem Post, which cited
Palestinian sources. The arrested men were suspected of planning and carrying out terror attacks in Jerusalem.

Jewish home in Jerusalem razed

Jerusalem officials razed a Jewish-built house they said was constructed illegally. It was the sixth such structure in a Jewish neighborhood of the city to be bulldozed during the past year. In the same period, the municipality razed 30 mostly empty Arab-built structures in eastern Jerusalem, according to the Jerusalem Post. Thedemolition of Arab structures generally is condemned around the world.

Save That Toilet Water

An Israeli legislator proposed a bill to flush less water. Nahum Lagenthal proposed the bill, which requires toilet manufacturers to reduce the amount of water used to flush toilets. Cutting the necessary flush water by some 20 percent would help Israel’s worsening drought, suggested Lagenthal, a member of the National Religious Party.

All briefs by Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Up in Smoke

A U.S.-brokered cease-fire has gone up in a puff of smoke.

Far from giving any substance to the truce that was declared in mid-June, Israel and the Palestinian Authority have become mired in a pattern of attack and counterattack — or, more bluntly, revenge and more revenge.

On Wednesday, Israel reinforced its forces around Palestinian cities in the West Bank in response to what it called an escalation in Palestinian violence. As increased numbers of troops and tanks took up new positions, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon denied that the move was part of plans to "reconquer" areas under control of the Palestinian Authority.

On Tuesday, the Palestinians fired a mortar shell at Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood, the first time Palestinians have fired mortars at Jerusalem since their violent uprising began nearly 10 months ago.

Palestinian officials said the attack came in retaliation for an Israeli helicopter attack earlier in the day that killed four Hamas militants in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

Israeli military officials said the helicopter attack targeted a Hamas leader who was planning to bomb the closing ceremonies of the Maccabiah Games on July 23.

Tuesday’s helicopter assault also came in retribution for a terror attack on Monday, when a suicide bomber killed two Israeli soldiers in the coastal town of Binyamina.

The Binyamina attack, for which Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility, prompted Israeli tanks to shell Palestinian military posts late Monday near the West Bank city of Jenin.

With each new assault, statements from each side provide little reason to hope that the season of action and reaction will end soon.

Israel’s police chief, Shlomo Aharonishky, warned Tuesday of more attempted terror attacks by Islamic militants. Also Tuesday, Islamic Jihad militants vowed to continue attacking Israel, despite a purported warning from Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to halt the terror.

Watching as the cease-fire they brokered became increasingly meaningless, U.S. officials were reduced to repeating a familiar mantra — calling on the Palestinian Authority to bring to justice those responsible for terror bombings, and urging the Israeli government to show restraint in the face of such attacks.

"There can be no military solution to this conflict," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

It was not the first time Boucher has offered this opinion, and it was not the first time it went unheeded. Recent days have seen increased diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the Israeli-Palestinian violence — but they all have failed.

Following Monday’s terror attack in Binyamina, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s communications adviser, Ra’anan Gissin, told Army Radio that the suicide bombing was a slap in the face from Arafat, who had met a day earlier in Cairo with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

After Sunday’s meeting, which lasted more than an hour, Peres said he had told Arafat that Israel is waiting for seven days of complete calm before starting peace moves. But ensuing events provided little reason to believe there would be calm, or anything close, anytime soon.

Just hours after the Peres-Arafat meeting, two Palestinians were killed while preparing a bomb near a Jerusalem stadium where the Maccabiah Games were due to open the next day.

And on Monday, in some of the fiercest fighting since the Palestinian uprising began last September, Israeli tanks moved into Palestinian-controlled parts of Hebron and exchanged heavy fire with Palestinian gunmen.

During the firefight, Israel destroyed four police posts operated by the Force 17 presidential guard and wounded nine people before withdrawing.

Israel said its incursion came in response to heavy shooting by Palestinian gunmen at Israeli troops and civilians in the volatile West Bank city.

The Peres-Arafat meeting came on the heels of talks last week in Ramallah between Arafat and Sharon’s son, Omri.

Sharon’s oft-declared stance that he will not negotiate while Palestinian violence continues was turned against him by right-wing ministers who criticized the prime minister for letting Peres meet with Arafat.

Sharon defended the Cairo meeting — as he had defended a previous Peres-Arafat encounter in Lisbon last month — by saying the foreign minister had not engaged in negotiations, but had reiterated Israel’s demand for an end to violence, terror and incitement.

Peres’ meeting with Arafat "dealt with one issue: an end to terror and return of security for Israeli citizens,” Sharon said Monday. "In this area, I think we can make every effort.”

Sharon dispatched his son to meet with Arafat on July 12 to reassure him that Israel has no plans to assassinate or unseat Arafat.

Omri Sharon was also directed to reiterate that there would be no negotiations before a complete halt to violence.

Sharon’s meeting followed a report in the London-based publication Foreign Report that Israel has a military plan to destroy the Palestinian Authority and expel Arafat from the territories.

Israel denied the report, and the U.S. State Department said the Bush administration has no knowledge about an Israeli plan to overthrow the Palestinian Authority.

Israel also has indicated that despite its ongoing policy of restraint, it will not tolerate continued attacks. At the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Israel will not allow any attack to pass without a response — a vow that was upheld following Monday’s suicide bombing in Binyamina.

Also at Sunday’s meeting, the Cabinet agreed to build new towns in a southern part of the country it offered the Palestinians last year in exchange for land in the West Bank. Cabinet Secretary Gideon Saar said all but one minister at the meeting supported the decision to build towns in the unpopulated Halutza Sands area of the Negev Desert near the Gaza Strip.

During talks with the Palestinians last year, no agreement was reached on the land-swap proposal.

In another development, Israeli security forces on Monday arrested another Palestinian in connection with the lynching last October of two Israeli reserve soldiers in Ramallah. Last month, the security forces disclosed they had arrested a Palestinian who was photographed waving his blood-soaked hands after the lynching.

Israelis Frustrated With Restraint

Considering that air, water and fire are essential elements not just of life but of war, Israelis this week could hardly feel more besieged.

Monday morning, takeoffs and traffic at Ben-Gurion Airport were severely disrupted following a bomb scare. In the evening, greater Tel Aviv’s water supply was announced undrinkable due to what was termed a "technical" contamination that raised fears about the vulnerability of the country’s water system.

Throughout it all, the fiery Palestinian uprising continued to take its toll of casualties.

Against this grim backdrop — and increasingly resigned to the idea that a major Israeli attack of some sort has become all but inevitable — few bothered even to take note of yet another Palestinian promise to "effectively" combat terrorism.

Yet that is just what Foreign Minister Shimon Peres reported, and hailed, in a Cabinet meeting Sunday, quickly eliciting hostile responses from right-wing ministers and exposing the basic ideological differences between Peres and his partner of convenience, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

According to Peres, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat on Saturday night convened a high-powered forum where — weeks after he agreed to an American plan for a cease-fire — he ordered his assorted security organizations to start arresting perpetrators of terror attacks and their accomplices.

What Peres concluded from this, and from the level of violence that has diminished since Arafat signed the cease-fire agreement brokered last month by CIA Director George Tenet, is that the Palestinian Authority will make a sincere effort to reduce violence.

On this assumption, Peres maintained that Israel should begin to implement the recommendations of the Mitchell Commission — officially halting all settlement-building activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — as a prelude to resuming peace talks.

Sharon has reportedly rejected Peres’ approach, insisting that nothing short of a comprehensive cessation of Palestinian violence will constitute compliance with the Tenet plan. Under the plan, a week of quiet will be followed by a period of confidence-building measures, and then peace negotiations.

The Bush administration, for its part, is trying cautiously to uphold and enhance the nominal cease-fire, while desperately trying to avoid drowning in the Mideast quagmire that sucked in the Clinton administration.

So far, Bush has refrained from inviting Arafat to Washington or even renewing the personal mediation roles of Tenet and Secretary of State Colin Powell. But Bush is sending a deputy assistant secretary of state, David Satterfield, in an open-ended effort to narrow the gaps between Jerusalem and Gaza and with an eye to implementing the Mitchell Report, The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday.

Clearly, the dispatch of such a relatively low-ranking official shows that the Bush administration has no illusions about the prospects for stabilizing the situation, let alone generating a breakthrough.

In the field, meanwhile, violence continues to rage. On Wednesday, Israeli police in the northern town of Afula averted a would-be suicide bomber just before he pushed a switch that would have detonated a large bag stuffed with explosives and nails. Israeli troops Tuesday demolished over two dozen Palestinian structures in a Gaza Strip refugee camp, triggering some of the worst fighting since the cease-fire was declared. Three Israeli soldiers were wounded, one of them seriously, and five Palestinians.

Speaking in Ramallah after talks in Jordan with King Abdullah, Arafat said he would seek international action against Israel. Palestinian officials denied a report that Arafat issued a directive to "kill a Jewish settler

every day." The Israeli daily Ma’ariv published the report, citing information received by Israeli officials.

Sunday night, outside an Israeli army camp near Hebron in the West Bank, Capt. Shai Shalom Cohen was killed when a roadside bomb was detonated outside the jeep he was driving.

In the Gaza Strip, one day after Hamas said it was sending 10 suicide bombers into Israel, a bomber’s explosives went off prematurely, killing him moments before he would have exploded a bus full of passengers just outside the Kissufim border checkpoint.

Grenade attacks were launched repeatedly at Israeli soldiers in the southern Gaza Strip.

In all, the Israeli army says the level of violence has declined to about a dozen incidents a day — hardly a full cease-fire, yet less than half the number of daily incidents before the Tenet plan was signed.

In the case of the suicide bomber who failed in his mission at Kissufim, the Palestinian Authority said Monday it had arrested an accomplice.

While that sounded like a vindication of Peres’ optimistic report, the government’s dominant, hawkish element was all but losing patience this week with what many there consider Sharon’s inexplicable and intolerable reluctance to order a major assault on the Palestinian Authority.

Leading the criticism was Environment Minister Tzahi Hanegbi, who said at a Cabinet meeting that the army should launch a massive attack with artillery, fighter planes, assault helicopters and elite infantry units.

Considered a hard-liner even by Likud Party standards, Hanegbi was joined by Shas’ often dovish minister of labor and welfare, Shlomo Benizri, who asked: "Just what kind of additional price should we pay before we finally respond?"

For now, Sharon’s response to such swipes from his right flank remains as unexpectedly moderate as it has been since his election in February.

"Everyone here [around the Cabinet table ] thinks they are heroes, but in the end, I am the one bearing the responsibility, and no one can teach me how to handle terrorism," he responded to Hanegbi and Benizri.

In a phone call Monday night with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Sharon, in fact, called for "constant international pressure to bring about the end of Palestinian terror, violence and incitement."

However, the Israeli consensus is that a major attack is in the making, even if no one can forecast precisely the timing or method. Ironically, this state of mind was echoed by the two men possibly most frustrated by Sharon’s rise to power — former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Speaking at a Tel Aviv University conference that addressed the media’s role in wars, Barak harshly attacked Arafat and, by extension, Peres.

Barak said Israeli leaders should no longer meet with Arafat, lest he be allowed "to once again don his mask" of peace partner.

As for conditions for a "military operation" — a euphemism for a big attack — Barak said one should be ordered only when there remains no other choice. However, many listeners understood Barak to be implying that the current conditions constituted such a case.

Speaking even less cryptically, Netanyahu told the same forum that military action should be "fast and strong" — a hint that he considers Sharon’s response to date slow and weak.

JTA correspondent Naomi Segal contributed to this report from Jerusalem.

Coordinating Terrorism

As the United States and other Western powers try to reduce Israeli-Palestinian tensions, Iran moved this week to fan the flames.

In a bid to become the hub for anti-Israel activities, Iran invited Arab terror groups — including Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad — to a two-day meeting in Tehran to coordinate strategy against Israel.

The view from Tehran is that the anti-Israeli front should intensify its activities to take advantage of Israel’s present “state of instability and weakness.”

The conference brought together a “Who’s Who” of Israel’s enemies, yet it was greeted with relative indifference by Israeli officials. As far as they are concerned, Iran’s role as a backer of militant groups has been clear for some time.

Just the same, the militant powwow represented something of a success for Tehran.

A non-Arab country, Iran has for years tried to shift the focus of the struggle against Israel from the Arab world to the broader Islamic world and has positioned itself as Israel’s archenemy.

Until now, many Muslim countries have distanced themselves from Iran and its fundamentalist regime. At a conference of Islamic states last November, for example, Iran failed to get the attendees to take steps to isolate Israel on the world stage.

This week, however, lawmakers from 30 Islamic countries — including Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Yemen — attended the conference, which intended to increase coordination among the rejectionists instead of competition and make the struggle against Israel more effective.

Salim Zanoun, chairman of the Palestine National Council, and Ikrami Sabri, the top Palestinian Authority-appointed Muslim cleric in Jerusalem, were on hand at the Tehran conference to look after the P.A.’s interests.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, opened the conference Monday with a declaration that combat, not dialogue, was the way to deal with the Jewish state.

“The strength of Islamic resistance lies in its ability to wreak crushing blows against Israeli actions and not in relying on diplomatic efforts and mediation of others,” he said. “Supporting the Palestinian people is one of the important Islamic duties.”

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, often described as a relative moderate on domestic issues, showed that he is little different from the ayatollah when it comes to Israel.

“The oppressed people of Palestine,” he said Monday, are “the victims of Zionist discrimination and aggression.”

The organizer of the Tehran conference was Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Poor, a former Iranian ambassador to Syria who is considered one of the founding fathers of Hezbollah.

Menashe Amir, head of the Persian department of Israel Radio, said Mohtashami-Poor is a close associate of Khatami, whom Amir in turn described as “just as hostile toward Israel as the radicals in Tehran.”

While the Iranians were busy this week trying to make themselves the central address for attacks on Israel, they may have competition from an unexpected corner.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Ra’anan Gissin, claimed Tuesday that billionaire terrorist Osama bin Laden is trying to establish a “terrorist” infrastructure among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Gissin made the claim after Israel arrested a Gaza lawyer it suspects of involvement with bin Laden, whose terror operations are based in Afghanistan.

If true, this could represent the opening of a new chapter in terrorist attacks on Israel.

This Week

This is a tough time for people who believe in Middle East peace. You might as well believe in the Tooth Fairy, or a flat earth. From L.A. to Tel Aviv, the mood among moderates has become grim. When a Woodland Hills rabbi asked congregants during his Yom Kippur sermon to say a prayer for slain and injured Palestinians, many congregants got up and walked out, while others hissed.

Even if the gunfire and stone throwing subsides, as it seemed to have by midweek, something greater than the peace process has been ravaged: trust. “Where is our peace partner?” implored Rabbi Perry Netter during a Yom Kippur sermon at Temple Beth Am that brought him close to tears. This time, Palestinian police turned their guns against their Israeli patrol partners. This time, Israeli Arabs joined in stoning Israeli Jews. This time, Palestinians who vowed to protect all holy sites trampled the sacred texts at Joseph’s Tomb and took sledgehammers to its exterior. (Scholars say Joseph’s Tomb is actually the grave of a Muslim caliph. Can’t the Palestinians at least protect their own holy sites?)

Arab Israelis riot in Nazereth, inside the Green Line, while Jewish Israelis counterattack near Tel Aviv. It’s all very Serbo-Croatian, and it sends shudders through our collective soul.

Until now, Los Angeles Jewry had stood behind the peace-making efforts of Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak. To us, the Oslo Accords represented everything that was right about Israel: a strong, enlightened democracy extending a hand to its enemies, confident that peace would make Israel even stronger. But now, with that trust broken, those willing to compromise might well be a minority.In Israel, the prospects are, of course, more frightening. Democracy must always struggle for its own existence: a state under siege by its own minority might well be led to legislate against it. An Israel that passes laws against its Arab minority or against other internal political opposition will pose a horrific choice to Jews whose support for a Jewish state hinges on its being a democratic one as well.

No doubt, those who have long opposed the peace process and territorial compromise are just as stricken by the news reports. But they are also alight with the glow of self-righteousness. They told us the Arabs really hate us. They told us we couldn’t trust Arafat. They told us Palestinian children have been suckled on anti-Semitism. They told us so.

But a few facts bear remembering: Opponents of compromise have never proffered a long-term solution to the Palestinian problem that doesn’t require Israel to become a non-democratic state at perpetual war with its neighbors. The peace process has come further in the past seven years than any rational person would have dreamt a decade ago. It is in no one’s long-term interest to abandon it, and that is why Arafat and Barak will hear out a revolving door of diplomats and leaders. On Tuesday’s “Nightline,” lead Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh agreed: they must get back to the table.

Finally, not all Arabs are to blame, and not all Jews are innocent. Israeli police had to keep Jewish mobs from killing Arab citizens of Israel. Israeli leaders have already called for an investigation of the riot-suppression tactics used by at least one army commander. One of the innocent victims of this week’s clashes, Asel Asleh, for three years attended Seeds of Peace , a U.S.-based camp designed to build tolerance between Israeli Arab and Israeli Jewish teenagers. Another wounded man, the father who was protecting his son in the now-famous photograph, said from his hospital bed that peace and coexistence is still the only answer (p. 40). This, after an Israeli bullet killed his 12-year-old son.

Yes, the death tolls and the firepower have been stupendously lopsided. That’s a rare fact in the span of Jewish history, and it should remind us of an essential truth behind the peace Rabin and Barak sought: Israel’s existence is not threatened by the Palestinians. Israel is still strong enough to make peace. That hasn’t changed.

So now what? Our bottom line must be to support for Israel during this time. Three rallies will be held, on Thursday, Sunday and Monday (see page 10) at which you can show your support. Also: Keep informed. A sidelight in this whole crisis has been the media’s coverage, which has ranged from anti-Israel to outright fatuous (local television news) to courageous and insightful (“Nightline”). The Journal’s Web site,, has a button that links immediately to a wide variety of sources for breaking Mideast news. I suspect there will be plenty of it.