More Palestinian Suicide

Thursday, June 20, 2002

ISRAELIS HAVE now suffered two horrific suicide bombings in two days in Jerusalem. At least 26 innocent people, many of them children, have been torn apart by nails and bolts in indefensible acts of terrorism whose only effect, apart from the wrenching carnage, has been to further damage the Palestinian national cause. President Bush has postponed a speech in which he reportedly intended to propose the early recognition of a Palestinian state; within the administration, those who support a U.S. effort to map out a political path to ending Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip have once again been undermined. Meanwhile, the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon has again sent troops to invade major West Bank towns and announced that it will begin to reoccupy territories previously ceded to the Palestinian Authority "for as long as the terror continues."

It's easy to understand why many Israelis would support the latest military campaign, along with another new government project to unilaterally construct a border fence between Israel and Palestinian-occupied areas. There have now been at least 71 suicide bombings in 20 months that have killed at least 247 civilians and wounded thousands more as they rode buses, shopped, sat in cafes, danced in clubs or celebrated religious holidays. No democratic country could be expected to tolerate such a sustained campaign of murder without seeking drastic measures of self-defense; polls show that average Israelis are ready to back just about any step, military or political, that offers some chance of relief.

The problem with Mr. Sharon's latest strategy, as so often in the past, is that it offers little hope of providing security but advances a political agenda that has scant support inside Israel and almost none outside. As most Israelis painfully learned during the 1970s and '80s, military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza cannot stop Palestinian resistance, only breed more of it. In that sense, a promise to remain in reoccupied territories until attacks on Israel cease could provide cause for a permanent stay, just as Mr. Sharon's previous vow not to reopen peace negotiations until all violence ends would indefinitely postpone any peace process. The hawks in Mr. Sharon's cabinet say this is exactly what they want -- they hope to use the cause of counterterrorism to revive the extremist dream of a "greater Israel" including all the occupied territories.

Mr. Sharon is usually vague in public about his own long-term aspirations, though he's made clear his opposition to discussing Palestinian statehood or even the curtailment of Jewish settlements in the West Bank any time in the foreseeable future. There's no doubt that Israeli reoccupations of significant parts of the Palestinian territories would stand in the way of a Bush administration effort to create a Palestinian state on those lands, provisionally or otherwise. If it is Mr. Sharon's aim to thwart any serious effort by the United States to launch a new Israeli-Palestinian peace process, then Palestinian extremists have once again played into his hands.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company