In his New York Times column (October 23), Tom Friedman wrote a mock letter from President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat that seemed to capture administration thinking. "We're fighting for our self-defense," Friedman/Bush write, "when your friend America is at war for its survival, there is only one question Israel should ask: How can we help?... We know bin Laden didn't attack us to liberate Palestine...(but we need you to) get off our radar screen! Our resolve is being tested by our enemies. We don't need it tested by our friends." Here's how Sharon should respond...
I appreciate your frank letter, believe me, I know how you feel. I know that you have dedicated your presidency to crushing the bastards who attacked America, and to ridding the world of the scourge of state-sponsored terrorism. There is no country in the world that is cheering you on more, from the bottom of our hearts.
I know how you feel because my whole life has been dedicated to the same fight, and I was elected to win this fight for the people of Israel. I do regret publicly blowing a gasket with that Czechoslovakia speech, but it was out of frustration that we have not been working hand in glove in the same battle.
My frustration came from the same "they don't get it" feeling that you have about us. You think I "don't get it" because I'm not willing to make things easier for you. That's neither true nor fair. We have and are willing to make great sacrifices in the war on terror, and we regard your war as war too. What we are not willing to do is sacrifice Israeli lives for the mistaken belief that compromising our security will help you fight terrorism.
I realize that you know full well that neither bin Laden nor your Arab coalition partners really care about the Palestinian cause. The fight that you have taken on is much bigger than that – it's about whether bin Laden can whip up the entire Arab world into battling you, their "Great Satan."
You know that what the Arab leaders are worried about is their skins, not what is going on here. I could be hugging Arafat tomorrow and it wouldn't move the Arab world one more inch into your corner.
Friends don't ask friends to tolerate terrorism.
That said, I know that you want quiet. So do I, to put it mildly. But there are only two ways for us to "get off the radar screen": for Israel to tolerate terrorism or for Arafat to stop it. Friends don't ask friends to tolerate terrorism. More importantly from your perspective, no leader could accept such a request, and implying that I should makes matters worse.
If you don't believe me, don't take my word for it, ask Arafat's confidant, Abu Ala. He said point blank that the Palestinians wouldn't "provide the Israelis with the ladder to climb down from its high position, as American pressure will in any case make Israel withdraw." Arafat figures, why should he crack down on terror if you are willing to protect him from us no matter what?
Don't you get it? Restraining us does not put pressure on both sides – it cancels out the pressure you are trying to put on Arafat. The pressure on us is superfluous in any case, because we are not trying to destroy the Palestinian Authority.
All we were trying to do – in addition to killing and capturing a lot of terrorists – was to expand the deals we cut in Beit Jala and Hebron across the board. As you know, we said we'd leave those places if the Palestinians stopped shooting from those areas, and if they didn't we'd come back permanently. I stuck with those deals, even though it lopped off the right wing of my government. But we can only cut a wider deal like that with the Palestinians if they know we can come back at will and won't have you all over our backs.
Your spokesman said that the situation here is different from Afghanistan, because in our case both parties have signed agreements. But this difference only holds when both sides are committed to negotiations, not when one side has blown up the negotiating table and resorted to terrorism.
I know that even we aren't acting as if Arafat is our bin Laden, because you don't talk about negotiating with bin Ladens, you just kill them. We're not even treating Arafat as our Taliban, because you've decided to get rid of the Taliban and we're still trying to reform Arafat. But the only chance we have of reforming Arafat is if you don't take away our stick. Throwing us to the wolves won't keep the coalition together; but stopping us from ensuring quiet will certainly help break it apart.
Reprinted with permission from the Jerusalem Post.