Arafat's Moment

IN the context of Sept. 11 and the war on terrorism, the latest attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinian suicide bombers are not just "more of the same" in the long Middle East conflict.

Their timing, scope, and viciousness clearly indicate that the Palestinians now lack the leaders to prevent war or to make peace. Is Yasser Arafat thus a spent political figure?

About a third of Israelis want him toppled, while another third want accelerated peace talks. What do the polls say about Palestinian attitudes?

That's the point: The lack of an effective democracy under Mr. Arafat doesn't allow a channel for public opinion or for economic progress. Instead, militant groups fill a vacuum, meeting political and social needs while persuading men to seek eternal honor as suicide bombers.

The attacks have also steeled the Bush administration to push Arafat into dismantling the militant groups, even if he suffers a backlash by militants and does so without political concessions by Israel.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell calls this Arafat's "moment of truth." The US, by its silence, will likely tolerate the Israeli retaliation.

Sentencing militants for a long time in jail will restore Arafat's credibility. He appears to be moving that way. But next he must do more for his people - or just step aside.

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