Middle East peace suffers setback with new violence
The march toward peace in the Middle East has fallen back into its established pattern, one step forward and two steps back.
After a quiet month, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had just resumed high level talks when those who oppose peace struck again.
A West Bank ambush Tuesday and a double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on Wednesday killed 14 people, including the two bombers.
Predictably, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon banned members of his cabinet from further peace talks until the violence ends.
Israeli troops then went on the offensive. They arrested 16 relatives of two Palestinians suspected of planning or facilitating the terrorist attacks. They destroyed the family homes of the two militants, then announced that Israel was considering a new anti-terror tactic, expelling some of the men to the Gaza Strip.
Given the social and family ties that exist in Palestinian society, expulsion is not only a severe punishment, but one that is bound to encourage an emotional and possibly violent response.
Israeli officials say they will only pursue expulsion when there is evidence that family members aided and abetted terrorists or suicide bombers.
Advocates of expulsion say it is one way of breaking the cycle of suicide bombers. Some families have basked in the glory of their "martyr" children and have received not only community support, but financial assistance. Iraq's Saddam Hussein has provided "pensions" of as much as $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers.
"We've seen mothers appearing in videos of suicide bombers before they go out to commit their atrocities. We've seen families of suicide bombers afterward expressing the wish that their other children will follow suit," said Daniel Taub, a Foreign Ministry legal adviser.
The prospect of exile may make martyrdom less attractive to terrorists and their families.
In the short run, however, the policy will almost assure some sort of retaliation from Palestinian militants. And that will assure that serious peace talks will not resume.
The only winners, it seems, are hard-liners on both sides of the conflict.