Arafat Cries "Sheep!"

Living as he does among many wolves of war, the kind who would send a suicide bomber to a Tel Aviv night club to kill young Israelis, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat made a bold gesture on Saturday. He ordered a ceasefire.

Such an order - unusual for him - assumes a lot. It assumes the chairman of the Palestinian Authority has the power to carry it out. It assumes Mr. Arafat spoke from the heart rather than from international pressure or a fear that he might be the next Palestinian official assassinated by Israel. (Israel holds him "responsible" for Friday's bombing that killed 20 people and injured 90.)

Maybe, though, one could assume Arafat has finally seen the futility of eight months of an increasingly violent uprising that's spinning toward wider war, with no conceivable endgame.

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And on that slim hope - that maybe Arafat is finally sticking his neck out - many nations have gone into diplomatic overdrive to push Israel and Arafat to again engage each other in making trade-offs needed for peace.

Arafat's order included resuming patrols by Palestinian security forces at points of friction, such as Israeli checkpoints. But so far he has not ordered the arrests of known militants that he freed from jail when the current intifada began last fall. Without that, an Israeli military reprisal is assumed, only re-escalating the conflict.

For a decade, the peace process has hung on an assumption that this one man is willing to make sacrifices and has the power to do so. Both have been in doubt recently.

If Arafat isn't able to end attacks on Israelis, then it may be time to try other ways of bringing about peace without him. Perhaps the US and Europe can broaden their approach and reach the Palestinian people directly.

The days when one man could deliver peace - Anwar Sadat, Yitzhak Rabin, King Hussein - may be over in the Middle East. Flows of information, money, and weapons now spread so far and so fast that those seeking peace must deal more with public opinion. Encircling the wolves with hearts of peace may be the only way.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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