JERUSALEM (Feb. 21)
After much debate among politicians, military officials and pundits, Israel has decided to create buffer zones to defend Israelis from Palestinian terrorists.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made the announcement in a televised speech Thursday that was mostly a pep talk to a nation that has faced nearly 17 months of Palestinian violence and sees no end to the conflict.
Sharon gave virtually no details about the buffer zones, which he said would be created “in order to increase the security of Israeli subjects.”
After discussions “held at the Security Cabinet a few days ago,” he said, “we decided to establish buffer zones and to set up obstacles along those border zones.”
Though pressed during the question-and-answer period with reporters that followed his speech, Sharon did not indicate how the zones would be demarcated nor what might happen to those settlers who might find themselves on the wrong side of the boundary.
During remarks a day earlier, when he addressed a visiting delegation of U.S. Jewish leaders, Sharon said there is a “war going on here.”
In his televised remarks Thursday, however, Sharon made less pointed references to the ongoing crisis as a war.
Israelis have to be “calm and have to preserve coolness in times of war and peace,” he said. “We must not act hastily. Everything in good time, neither too late nor too early. That is the only way we can be victorious in war, and that is the only way to achieve a stable peace.
“We are a people that has accumulated a great deal of experience in dealing with troubles,” he added.
His speech came amid calls from some quarters in Israel — including from a group of reservists refusing to serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — for Israel to halt its military reprisals.
Referring to these dissenting voices, Sharon said Israel’s enemies “have misinterpreted our internal debates, which are the very essence of a democracy and which are actually one of the sources of our strength.”
“They have misunderstood this situation. They think that there are cracks in our people,” he added. “And of course they are encouraged to think that from the expressions of people calling for refusal to serve in the territories, but they are wrong. This people is stronger and more united than they could possibly imagine.”
Sharon repeatedly spoke of Israel’s yearning for peace with its Arab neighbors.
But he also reiterated that negotiations with the Palestinian can only begin after there is a complete halt to hostilities.
“First, terror must stop. There must be calm, and only then will we talk about peace,” he said.
At the same time, Sharon voiced his willingness to meet with Palestinian “personalities” in an effort “to prevent any escalation and to prevent a slide into overall total war.”
While he said he was willing to engage in dialogue, Sharon made it clear that there would be no compromises where Israel’s security is concerned.
“I said in the past, and I say it again today, for the sake of true peace, there must be painful concessions, but there will be no concessions with regard to the security of Israel and its citizens,” he said.
Sharon spoke during a week marked by some of the worst violence since the intifada erupted in September 2000.
On Thursday, Israel launched a land and air assault on Gaza City and on several cities in the West Bank in retaliation for the point-blank slaying of six Israeli soldiers on Tuesday.
About 20 Palestinians have been killed in a series of Israeli reprisals launched this week after the six were killed by Palestinian gunmen at a Ramallah-area roadblock.
In his speech, Sharon addressed some of his remarks to those “Palestinians who do not want war and who are not engaged in terror.”
“Do you intend to go on sending your children to commit suicide as bombers?” he asked. “Or do you intend to follow those who suggest prosperity and advancement?”
Drawing a picture of a hopeful future, he said: “I suggest to all, Jews and Arabs like, that there must be calm. Stop educating towards hatred.
“What we all see here today is prosperity and advancement. And I know that in the end, with God’s help, this is what will happen.”