Mideast insecurity

Tuesday, August 6, 2002

AFTER A notably bloody weekend in which at least 16 people were killed in Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets -- and Israel intensified efforts to retaliate and choke off additional violence -- revival of the all-but- abandoned Mideast peace process is more urgent than ever. Nothing else can begin to restore a sense of security to both Jews and Arabs, stop the steady ruination of civilized life and preserve any remaining chance the two peoples have to thrive side by side.

Immediate reactions to the past few days of horror (topped by a bus bombing in northern Israel that killed 9 and injured more than 40) were not hopeful. The bombing was ritually denounced by the weakened Palestinian Authority. But Israeli officials clamped tighter restrictions on Palestinians' travel within the occupied West Bank and, on Sunday, ordered nine more demolitions of the homes of bombers' families, members of which may or may not have aided the bombings.

The punitive destruction of families' dwellings for harboring terrorists is an unwelcome revival of a practice mostly put to rest when the Palestinian uprising of 1987-93 gave way to the Oslo peace accord. One Israeli rationale for the collective punishment is that it deters potential suicide bombers concerned for their families' welfare. For the moment, its practical effect is to heighten the fury and frustration of Palestinians and worsen the climate for conciliation. Extremists plotting anti-Israel terrorism may now conceal the identities of suicide bombers rather than publicly hail them as "martyrs."

President Bush, though he was particularly stirred by last week's bombing at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in which the seven dead included five Americans, has lacked vigor in giving life to his June peace proposals. He needs to have his top envoys on the scene in Israel with concrete plans and guarantees. The bloodletting on both sides has to stop.

©2002 San Francisco Chronicle.