By Michael Freund

(January 23) - For a few hours earlier this week, it seemed as if the Israeli government had finally come to its senses.

After Thursday's shocking attack in Hadera, in which a Palestinian terrorist from Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction murdered six innocent people at a bat mitzva celebration, the army sent in tanks and troops to Tulkarm in Samaria. Wanted terrorists were arrested, illegal weapons and explosives were confiscated, and Arafat was sent a clear and fairly persuasive message he may soon find himself sharing a cave with Osama bin Laden if his anti-Israel violence does not cease forthwith.

At last it appeared Israel was upping the ante, punishing Arafat by retaking some of his territorial assets and settling in for the long haul. Our government, it seemed, had decided to act as any other country would in a similar situation. But that, however, quickly proved to be an unwarranted illusion.

For even as Israeli soldiers were bravely reasserting control over Tulkarm, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Chief of General Staff Lieut.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz rushed to reassure the world: the government has no intention of staying in Tulkarm any longer than necessary. Speaking to reporters, Mofaz added, "We will not stay there forever."

To that all I can say is: why the heck not? In the past few months, Israel has developed this exasperating habit of waiting for a major terror attack to occur before mustering up the courage to enter Palestinian-controlled territory and attack the terrorist infrastructure. Then, a few days later, the army beats a hasty retreat, effectively allowing the Palestinians to regroup, rebuild and plan further atrocities.

While such incursions may have tactical pinpoint value in that they allow Israel to take down a handful of terrorists here and there, their effect is quickly diluted once the troops withdraw and the terror organizations are free again to operate as they please.

Israel's ping-pong policy has not gone unnoticed by the Palestinians. Speaking in Ramallah on Monday, Arafat said, "I tell these Israeli tanks this is not the first time and will not be the last time they place us under siege.... We are here to stay and will not succumb." (Reuters, January 21)

Arafat's bluster is hardly surprising - after all, he knows full well that Israel's current presence in places like Tulkarm and Ramallah is intended merely as a temporary measure. Hence, why should he be concerned? If there is truly no risk of Arafat permanently losing territory as a result of his actions, then why shouldn't he continue with his obstinacy and intransigence?

It is therefore time for Israel to reconsider its entire approach, particularly since it does not seem to be having the intended effect. If cities such as Tulkarm are serving as launching pads for Palestinian terror attacks, and if Arafat blithely ignores his responsibility to fight terror, then Israel must step in and do the job itself. And doing the job means retaking such locations not for days or weeks at a time, but forever.

By declaring Tulkarm to be under permanent Israeli control, the government will be sending Arafat a clear and unequivocal message: if you break the rules of the game, you will pay a heavy price for doing so. If Arafat takes the irreversible step of ending innocent lives, then Israel should take the irreversible step of ending his rule, city by city, village by village.

Only by marching forward, rather than constantly retreating, can Israel truly hope to bring about an end to Arafat's reign of terror.

As Gen. George S. Patton told his troops on May 31, 1944, one week before Allied forces launched the D-Day invasion: "There's another thing I want you to remember. I don't want to get any messages saying that we are holding our position. We're not holding anythingÉ. We are advancing constantly, and we're not interested in holding onto anything except the enemy." With those words in mind, Patton's troops went on to play a key role in crushing the threat posed to the free world by the forces of darkness and evil.

Only by adopting a similar approach can Israel hope to prevail against those who would destroy her. And only by undermining Arafat's rule, and progressively liberating the areas under his control, can Israel finally bring its nightmare of terror to an end.

(The writer served as deputy director of Communications and Policy Planning in the Prime Minister's Office from 1996 to 1999.)

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