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Against Israel's interest

President Bush isn't willing to place meaningful sanctions on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for aggressive, counterproductive actions that violate the president's own road map for peace. Leading Washington Democrats pander to Sharon and the domestic pro-Israel lobby at least as assiduously as the president does. With Israel's dominant benefactor abdicating its responsibility, it falls on Israelis themselves to check Sharon's worst impulses.

Israel's top-ranking soldier did just that last week. Speaking out in a manner that he knew would jeopardize his career, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, the military's chief of staff, warned that Sharon's increasingly tough line against the Palestinians runs counter to Israel's "strategic interest" because "it increases hatred for Israel and strengthens the terror organizations."

Yaalon criticized the broad curfews and travel restrictions imposed on peaceful Palestinians. He also blamed Sharon for failing to offer any concessions that could have salvaged the short-lived government of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who offered brief hope for moving beyond the corrupt, bloodstained misrule of Yasser Arafat.

Yaalon is not the first Israeli soldier to balk at Sharon's heavy-handedness. Twenty-seven Israeli air force pilots recently staged an unprecedented protest, refusing to fly what they condemned as immoral air strikes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that unnecessarily endangered innocent civilians in the course of targeting suspected terrorists.

Sharon also has committed to more permanent provocations that violate the tattered road map. Over widespread objections, he has moved forward with a security fence that cuts deeply into the occupied territories. At the same time, he has approved the expansion of Israeli settlements that would have to be dismantled under any equitable peace plan.

Sharon has an obligation to take the most forceful actions necessary to defend his people and punish the terrorists responsible for an escalating series of attacks on innocent Israelis. However, the only hope for moving beyond the cycle of violence is for the Israeli government to couple those tough military and security policies with overtures that offer a path to peace for Palestinians who reject terrorism. Israel's democratic traditions also demand military actions conducted in a manner that does not descend to the depths of immorality of the nation's terrorist enemies.

Washington politicians are unwilling to hold Israel to that standard. Israel's Arab neighbors have no moral standing to do so. That leaves it to courageous Israelis such as Lt. Gen. Yaalon to stand up for their country's highest principles.

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