you noticed how often Israel kills a Hamas activist and the victim
is described by Israelis as "a senior Hamas official" or a "key
operative"? This has led me to wonder: How many senior Hamas officials
could there be? We're not talking about I.B.M.
here. We're talking about a ragtag terrorist group. By now Israel
should have killed off the entire Hamas leadership twice. Unless
what is happening is something else, something I call Palestinian
math: Israel kills one Hamas operative and three others volunteer
to take his place, in which case what Israel is doing is actually
is, in fact, a useful term to describe Israelis and Palestinians
today. "Both sides," notes the Israeli political theorist Yaron
Ezrahi, "have crossed the line where self-defense has turned into
self-destruction. When self-defense becomes self-destruction, only
an external force can bring people back to their senses. And that
force is President Bush. I think he is the only reality principle
left that either side might listen to, and I hope he understands
You know that
both sides are in self-destruction mode when you can look at their
military actions and say that even if they succeeded they would
be worse off. The question is not whether Israel has a right to
kill senior Hamas officials. They are bad guys. The question is
whether it's smart for Israelis to do it now.
The fact is,
the only time Israelis have enjoyed extended periods of peace in
the last decade has been when Palestinian security services disciplined
their own people, in the heyday of Oslo. Unfortunately, Yasir Arafat
proved unwilling to do that consistently. The whole idea of the
Bush peace process is to move Mr. Arafat aside and replace him with
a Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, who is ready to rebuild
the Palestinian security services, and, in the context of an interim
peace settlement, corral Hamas.
this. So its tactic is to goad Israel into attacks that will unravel
the whole process. The smart thing for Israel to do — and it's not
easy when your civilians are being murdered — is not to play into
Hamas's hands. The smart thing is to say to Mr. Abbas: "How can
we help you crack down on Hamas? We don't want Israel to own Hamas's
demise. Palestinians have to root out this cancer within their own
society. If Israelis try to do it, it will only metastasize."
argue that if America can go after Osama bin Laden, Israel can go
after Hamas. Of course Israel is entitled to pursue its mortal enemies,
just as America does, but it cannot do it with reckless abandon,
notes Mr. Ezrahi, for one reason: America will never have to live
with Mr. bin Laden's children. They are far away and always will
be. Israel will have to live with the Palestinians, after the war.
They are right next door and always will be.
The fact is,
Ariel Sharon's two years of using the Israeli Army alone to fight
terrorism have not made Israelis more secure. He needs a Palestinian
partner, and he has to operate and negotiate in a way that will
nurture one. And the people who get that the best are Israelis.
In a Yediot Ahronot poll released Friday, two-thirds of Israelis
were critical of Mr. Sharon's tactic of targeted assassinations
of Hamas officials and said they wanted Mr. Abbas to be given a
chance to establish his authority.
It may be that
Mr. Abbas can't step up to this. It may be that the Palestinians
are capable only of self-destructive revenge, rather than constructive
restraint and reconciliation. But surely Israel has more to gain
in the long term by giving Mr. Abbas every chance to prove otherwise,
and to empower him to do so, rather than killing one more Hamas
"senior official," who will only be replaced by three others.
the two sides cannot emerge from this dead end, then you can forget
about a two-state solution, which is what both Hamas's followers
and the extremist Jewish settlers want. They each want a one-state
solution, in which their side will control all of Israel, the West
Bank and Gaza. The one-state solution would mean the end of the
Zionist enterprise, because Israel can rule such an entity, in which
there would soon be more Arabs than Jews, only by apartheid or ethnic
cleansing. It would also mean the end of Palestinian nationalism,
because the Israelis will crush the Palestinians rather than be
evicted. That is the outcome we are heading toward, though, unless
the only reality principle left, the United States of America, really
intervenes — with its influence, its wisdom and, if necessary, its