January 7, 2002 -- By sending presidential mediator Anthony Zinni back to the Middle East last week, our State Department both rewarded and became an accomplice to Yasser Arafat for his latest charade.

Prior to Zinni's departure, a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv said the visit "will encourage the Palestinians to continue cracking down on terrorists." Continue cracking down? But other than token gestures, there's been nothing remotely resembling such a "crackdown" from the Palestinian Authority.

On Dec. 16, Arafat gave a speech hailed in the West as a sign of his seriousness about shutting down Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Since then, attacks on Israel have declined by half. The Foggy Bottom boys believe this is due to the authority arresting 50 or more militants. Yup, they call him Marshall Yasser.

Arafat's brief stay in the international doghouse is officially over. Earlier, the State Department protested Jerusalem's decision to bar him from attending a Christmas Eve mass in Bethlehem, to penalize him for refusing to arrest the killers of cabinet member Rehavam Ze'evi. Washington failed to see the irony of Arafat's eagerness to attend a ceremony honoring one of the few Jews in the region whose murder he hasn't been linked to.

In reality, the chairman's mid-December speech wasn't exactly the Sermon on the Mount or Lincoln's Second ("with malice toward none") Inaugural Address. True, he did call on Palestinian demolition squads "to totally stop all actions, including the suicide attacks that we have condemned."

Arafat has yet to pick up any of those on the list of 110 terrorist leaders Israel regularly presents to him.

Then, with a wink and a nudge, Arafat observed, "Violence against Israel isn't terrorism" and again praised the families of suicide bombers "who have sacrificed the dearest of our children for the sake of victory and freedom."

Arafat has yet to pick up any of those on the list of 110 terrorist leaders Israel regularly presents to him. "We are the ones arresting the big fish," says Lt. Col. Olivier Rafovitch, a spokesman for the Israeli Army.

On the day of Arafat's speech, CNN broadcast footage showing Palestinian cops hugging and kissing their terrorist comrades as they led them into captivity of sorts.

The jails they're confined in will never be mistaken for the hole at Alcatraz. Accommodations in 5-star hotels is more like it. Prisoners are allowed to use telephones and fax machines and meet with whomever they wish.

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reports that two previous guests of the Ritz Yasser (from an earlier propaganda offensive) actually made bombs while behind bars.

Even our foreign policy innocents should have a hard time swallowing the notion that with 40,000 heavily armed security forces at his command, Arafat is unable to control 2,000 Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives.

The chairman of the Palestinian Authority doesn't just condone those who turn Israeli teens into body parts. The authority's Force 17 and Arafat's personal Tanzim militia have worked hand-in-bloody-glove with Hamas and Jihad in planning and executing atrocities. If Arafat were sincere about fighting terrorism, he'd have to arrest himself.

"When speaking to Arab audiences, Arafat is still the pistol-wearing guerrilla of old, filled with venom for Israel."

While Secretary of State Colin Powell complains about the suicide bombers thwarting Arafat's valiant peace efforts, even Bill Richardson (as former U.N. ambassador, a certified member of Clinton's fanciful foreign policy crew) admits: "Arafat has been playing both sides for years. In English, he is a willing partner for peace ... but when speaking to Arab audiences, Arafat is still the pistol-wearing guerrilla of old, filled with venom for Israel." In the latter mode, the chairman recently disclosed that the Israeli Mossad murdered Ze'evi. From Zionists who engineered the Holocaust, what would you expect?

For the Palestinian strongman, terrorism is diplomacy by other means. With conveniently timed breaks, Arafat is committed to continuing the slaughter until he has all he wants -- an Israeli commitment to give him every inch of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, dismantle the settlements and allow a right of return (to pre-1967 Israel) to unlimited numbers of Palestinian "refugees." All of which would have the impact of a suicide mega-bomb detonated in the midst of 6 million victims.

It's so obvious that you almost have to be a U.S. diplomat not to see it.