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BLOODY DAYS



Published: Wed, August 7, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



BLOODY DAYS

Washington Post: The spate of terrorist attacks in Israel over the past few days, which claimed the lives of 15 people, comes on the heels of the deadly bombing at Jerusalem's Hebrew University last week. These barbaric crimes against civilians not only kill and maim Israelis. They enormously damage the Palestinian cause in whose name they are perpetrated, by postponing the day when Palestinian national aspirations can be seriously entertained. Israel cannot be required to spawn a terrorist state on its borders. As long as Palestinians remain committed to terrorism, only more bloodshed, not statehood, will be within their reach.

It is not to shift the blame for these crimes that we note that they were entirely foreseeable reactions to the Israeli decision to assassinate a Hamas leader with a large bomb -- an attack that also killed a number of civilians, several of them children. Preventing Hamas from conducting murder is a legitimate military activity. But Hamas always conducts revenge bombings -- and it has proven adept over many years in pulling them off in the face of the tightest Israeli security precautions. So the cost of any operation designed to neutralize a major Hamas terrorist is not just the innocent Palestinian blood it might shed. The cost also, as a practical matter, involves Israelis whom Hamas will kill in response. The Israeli urge following each Palestinian attack to employ heavy-handed military force is understandable, and doing this may be emotionally satisfying. But can anyone really imagine that the closure Israel has now imposed on the territories will prevent future attacks or that destroying the homes of suicide bombers will deter them? The chief effect of tightening the noose will only be to intensify the struggle.

Protection of citizens

At some point, even the toughest of governments must see -- or be made to see -- that its duty to protect its citizens is not always best served by the most unrestrained military response. Israel, to be sure, is in a difficult position: It must provide some measure of security to its people while being dependent upon an entirely untrustworthy negotiating partner. But the government of Ariel Sharon is making the country's predicament even worse. By removing from the table any vision of a final status arrangement, Mr. Sharon has taken away any incentive the Palestinians might have to return to negotiations. And even as he promises nothing to the Palestinian leadership, should it prove willing to talk rather than fight, he also pursues a policy of military confrontation that is bound to fail in stopping terrorism.

Eventually, Israel and the Palestinians will have to re-engage, and they will have to do so on terms similar to the ones that the Palestinians rejected two years ago and that Mr. Sharon rejects today. Every attack mocks the possibility of coexistence, and Israel certainly has the right to defend itself. But the current policy is not working: Israelis are not safer, Palestinians are imprisoned in their homes, and too many of both are dying and learning habits of hatred that will last generations.




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