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May 10, 2002

Peace with the Palestinians?

Homicide bombings continue to threaten any chance of negotiated peace in the Middle East. As President George Bush commenced discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the first “Hamas-cide” bombing in nearly a month occurred outside Tel Aviv killing 15 Israeli civilians. More than 60 were wounded, including more than a dozen in serious condition. A second terrorist blew up but didn’t die and didn’t murder any civilians. We call the latter “self-solving.”

Mr. Sharon cut short his visit to the U.S., hastening home to resume self-defensive operations against Jihadi terrorists in Palestinian territories. Before departing, Sharon made his principles clear. “He who rises up to kill us, we will pre-empt and kill him first. There is no way to move forward on a political process with a terrorist, corrupt … entity. Those who launch terrorism are guilty.”

Responding at last to pressure to condemn terrorism in Arabic on Arabic media, chief Palestinian terrorist Yasser Arafat declaimed on Palestinian TV, “I gave my orders and directions to all the Palestinian security forces to confront and prevent all terror attacks against Israeli civilians from any Palestinian side or parties, and at the same time to confront any aggression or attack on Palestinian civilians, whether by Israeli soldiers or settlers, which we all condemn.”

But can anyone take this last-ditch pronouncement seriously now? Israeli Cabinet Minister Danny Naveh noted, as he presented a 103-page dossier detailing Arafat’s direct involvement in Palestinian terrorist activities against Israel: “In my mind it’s crystal clear that Arafat can’t be a partner for peace again…. If you would like to achieve peace and to move ahead for better days of reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, there is no place for doubt after you read this [report] because it’s crystal clear that there [is] hard evidence that Arafat himself is involved in terrorist activities…. If we want to move ahead in the peace process it can’t be with Arafat. …If our conclusion after these findings is that we should continue to talk to Arafat or that we should get back to negotiations with Arafat, it means that there is no hope for peace in our area.”

The Israeli cabinet has unanimously approved defensive operations in Gaza in response to this most recent attack. IDF “quick strike” operations against known terrorist positions are poised to begin.

The standoff at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity is over. 13 of the Palestinian terrorists in the church will be forced into permanent exile among at least 7 different nations, after a brief segue in Cyprus – the E.U. will determine their final destinations. Twenty-six other Palestinian militants will be released into Gaza, but barred from crossing again into the West Bank. With some irony, the defeated terrorists left the church bowed over as they exited through the church’s low-arched Door of Humility.

And Mr. Bush is dispatching CIA Director George Tenet to the region to begin formulating plans for a Palestinian security force that will be “transparent” and “accountable” and resistant to corruption. For the same reason, the administration is eager to see a new structure for the Palestinian treasury put in place. These developments seem to be looking toward a time in the near future with Arafat effectively out of the picture.

On the HomSec front, President Bush’s domestic measures to protect Americans are largely focused on precluding “high consequence” WMD scenarios intended to inflict significant loss of life and economic disruption. Based on the information The Federalist has reviewed, the administration has done a good job of selecting, prioritizing and implementing effective prevention efforts amid a plethora of unwelcome possibilities in a target-rich nation.

Mr. Bush’s fiscal 2003 budget includes $38 billion for HomSec, including $10.6 billion for border security, $5.9 billion in bioterrorism defense, $4.8 billion for aviation security, $3.5 billion for local “first responders,” and $722 million for new technology – all of which constitute, as noted by Tom Ridge, a “down payment” in a multiyear plan.

The one area still lacking is aviation security. Though air travel is at 90% of its pre-9/11 levels, many of the measures taken to secure airports are simply ineffective and there is great potential for “porking” this portion of the president’s HomSec budget. For example, some major airports are spending enormous tax dollars moving their parking facilities away from terminals to, theoretically, insulate terminals from vehicle bombs. But one must ask, what would prevent homicide bombers from simply driving their rental truck full of ANFO right through the front of a terminal and then detonating it? (As we recall, the 9/11 hijackers did not parachute out of those aircraft before they hit their targets – they were the first to die.)

Not to burst any “safe-and-sound” security bubbles, but the fact is, despite ridiculous airport “security” measures now being implemented, anyone who wants to hijack an airplane – can. In the air, the most sensible safety measure implemented thus far was increased ranks of air marshals. A much better measure would be voluntary arming of pilots – something Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta is not eager to authorize. On the ground, we are not utilizing the most effective means of identifying potential hijackers – profiling – which is not to say the “federalized” security personnel at concourse checkpoints are not catching a few errors utilizing random searches. For example, after clearing a security checkpoint earlier this week, a man attempting to board a plane at New Orleans International Airport was called for a random search and found to be carrying two loaded semiautomatic handguns – a minor oversight.

And regarding airport personnel, last week, 450 airport employees with access to high-security areas at 15 airports were arrested or indicted in “Operation Tarmac”, an effort to identify those using fraudulent Social Security numbers, hiding criminal convictions or illegal immigrantion.

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