The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 11/21/02 ]

Palestinian bombers maim a just cause

by Jay Bookman

Palestinian suicide bombers continue to blow up Israeli buses, Israeli buildings, Israeli lives. The terrorists no doubt believe they are killing to advance the Palestinian cause, but they are tragically, hopelessly, historically mistaken.

Every time a suicide bomb explodes, the likelihood of a Palestinian state grows smaller.

With every new attack, Palestinian terrorists strengthen the hand of Israeli extremists who hope ultimately to deny statehood to the Palestinians, and someday even to remove them from their land altogether.

And because the Palestinians lack leadership willing to tell them that truth, they continue to play into the hands of those who plot to destroy them. In their blind anger, the Palestinians are allowing themselves to be outsmarted and played for fools, and risk losing what they are willing to die to achieve.

Recent events in Hebron, a historic town in the occupied territories, serve all too well as a microcosm of what's at stake, and what the future may hold in the Middle East.

The latest string of events began a week ago with an attack on Israeli settlers and troops by members of Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group. The attack killed 12 soldiers and guards, and in response local Israeli settlers demanded the further expansion of Israeli settlements in Hebron. Two days later, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon publicly endorsed that step.

And so it has gone, and so it will go.

Palestinian leaders express great frustration that while Israeli leaders have talked publicly for more than a decade about swapping land for peace, they have meanwhile continued to expand Jewish settlements in occupied areas, implying that they have no intention of ever leaving.

When Palestinians complain about that blatant hypocrisy, they are absolutely correct. When they criticize the United States and American media for largely ignoring the underhanded Israeli settlement policy, they are right again.

But in a broadcast media world, the suicide bombing of a bus will always get more coverage than the expansion of a settlement. Terrorism against civilians will always be a bigger story than a new Israeli outpost in the West Bank. It's a fact of modern life that no amount of complaining will change.

With their violence, the Palestinians are providing cover for their own disinheritance.

The impact extends to Israeli politics. In a recent poll, 78 percent of Israelis said they would be willing to withdraw from most settlements as a condition of peace. But because of Palestinian terrorism, the Israeli government remains in the hands of the 20 percent who would not.

The platform of the ruling Likud Party, headed by Ariel Sharon, states clearly that "the Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. (Judea and Samaria are the historic Hebrew names for the West Bank.) Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel."

In a recent interview, Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon referred directly to the occupied territories as "our land," meaning part of Israel. When I questioned the description, he seemed startled that such a thing could even be disputed. Of course it is Israeli land, he said. It has always been Israeli land.

Which, of course, it has not, not since the times of the Old Testament.

Last month, Jewish settlers fired on Palestinians who were attempting to pick ripened olives from their own trees, in one case killing a harvester. Armed settlers in other areas began to pick olives themselves, robbing the Palestinians of their last real source of income. In response, a prominent Israeli rabbi, once the nation's chief rabbi, announced that the settlers had been within their rights, since the land and everything that grows on it belongs to the Jews.

That is clearly still a minority viewpoint in Israel. But as Jewish settlements multiply and expand in occupied Palestine, hidden from world notice by Palestinian terror attacks, you have to wonder. If the chance for peace ever comes, will the majority of Israelis have the political will to force a withdrawal that a minority of Israelis passionately, fervently and religiously oppose?

By then, will it even be a minority?

Jay Bookman is the deputy editorial page editor.

© 2002 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution