Spiral of Hate

Israel's planned re-occupation of Palestinian sites is bad policy that will deepen the crisis.

June 20, 2002

Israel's decision to seize and hold on to parts of the West Bank "as long as terror continues" is an understandable response to this week's murderous suicide bombings.

It's also the wrong policy.

The gradual re-occupation of land Israel ceded to Palestinian control after the Oslo agreement will have dismally predictable consequences. It will perpetuate and possibly deepen the spiral of violence between Israel and Palestinian radicals. At best, it may slow down, if not necessarily stop, the rate of suicide bombings for a time. But at worst, it may create more suicide bombers than it blocks.

Re-occupying parts of the West Bank will feed into the worst of the beliefs and rhetoric of Hamas, which claimed credit for Tuesday's bus bombing that killed 19 Israelis, and al- Aqsa Brigade, which sponsored Wednesday's bus-stop bombing where at least seven died. The re-occupation will be used as a recruitment ploy for young men willing to immolate their lives on the altar of hatred.

After the bombings, President George W. Bush stood by Israel's decision to seize Palestinian areas, but it was a highly qualified statement of support, and properly so. Bush did not explicitly approve the seizures. Spokesman Ari Fleischer said: "The president believes that Israel has a right to defend itself."

Yes, most Americans and all Israelis understand the need to fight back. But many Israelis have severe qualms about the wisdom of re-occupation. It sets back every gain made since Oslo, and makes future negotiations more difficult.

Perhaps what's most worrisome is that any peace plan or proposal for Palestinian statehood that Bush is contemplating will seem irrelevant now, drowned out in the rising pitch of hostilities. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon won't consider any statehood proposal while Israel is under constant threat. And Palestinian radicals will feel even more justified in their attacks by the re-occupation policy.

Palestinian Islamists and Israeli hard-liners are in the driver's seat, playing into each other's hands. If there is any hope for Mideast violence to end, it will have to come from the creation of a new, moderate, rational Palestinian leadership whose task will be to convince young Palestinians that suicide bombings create an obstacle, not a path to statehood.

Until then, blood and hatred will rule the day.

Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.