Israel Report

June 2002         

Suicide Bombing

by the Editors of The New Republic - June 20, 2002
Of course Palestinians went and slaughtered Israelis: The president of the United States was about to propose the creation of a "provisional" Palestinian state. This presented the Palestinians with an emergency. The Palestinian dream was drawing closer to its realization; the possibility of a truce between Palestinians and Israelis was in the air again; territorial compromise with the Jews, and an elementary respect for their lives and their rights, was all that stood between occupation and statehood. Clearly this had to be stopped. The choice between rage and happiness seems to be an easy choice for the Palestinians, and so they regularly choose rage. A bus with schoolchildren, a street corner with baby carriages: Here was the answer to the threat that the resumption of a peace process posed to the Palestinians. But blow the bus and the street corner up and the threat could be averted, and the holy war could continue, and Allah--or at least Sheikh Ahmad Yassin's Allah--would be gratified.

Actually, the Palestinian depravity of this week was even worse, and more cynical. For no sooner had Hamas exploded the bus in Jerusalem than the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade exploded the street corner in Jerusalem: The secularists did not want to suffer in popularity for their failure to murder. In contemporary Palestine, suicide bombing is politically savvy. Yes, yes, the Palestinian community is divided, and there are many decent people who deplore the suicide bombings and aspire to get on with the business of self-government. But Israel cannot be expected to welcome stoically the internecine Palestinian debate while innocent men, women, and children--Jewish and Muslim--are regularly destroyed. The clarification of Palestinian identity is costing too many lives.

So what should Israel do? Strategically speaking, the Israelis may be reaching a breaking point. The Israeli incursions into "Area A" in the wake of the recent atrocities are as justified as the incursions in the wake of the massacre in Netanya a few months ago; but the media is reporting that they are more than that, that the current Israeli action represents a decision to "reoccupy" certain areas for security reasons. If so, it is worth remembering that the West Bank was originally occupied by Israel in the course of defending itself as well. It is not in Israel's interest to stay in "Area A". The last thing that Israel or that most Israelis are seeking is a greater burden of occupation in a hostile territory. They want a fence, not a fiefdom. Anyway, sooner or later the United States and the United Nations and the European Union (Cherie Blair explained about the suicide bombers that they are "young people [who] feel they have got no hope" and Jack Straw expressed his "compassion" for them) will soon force them out. What is taking place on the West Bank now is a police action that is proportionate to the crimes that are being policed; no less, but no more.

What Israel should not do is sacrifice its clarity about security and diplomacy to an obsession with Yasir Arafat. If last week's bombings prove anything, it is that the chairman of the Palestinian Authority has lost control of the Palestinian polity. He is as plainly irrelevant as Ariel Sharon used to say he is. This is bad news, because it means that the problem is not the leader but the community, and this is good news, because it means that the vain and cowardly old man will not stand in the way of diplomacy much longer.

But what should this diplomacy be? The American government, under the leadership of Colin Powell, is readying itself to offer the Palestinians provisional statehood. This is not diplomacy; this is pseudodiplomacy. A provisional Palestinian state is a phony Palestinian state, a chimera, a sop to the violent Palestinian streets, a capitulation to the Riyadh-Cairo analysis of the present crisis. A Palestinian state that is not created in a negotiation with Israel is not a Palestinian state that will live in peace with Israel. The legitimacy of the objective of Palestinian statehood is almost universally acknowledged in Israel; even Sharon speaks of its inevitability. But this great Israeli accommodation to reality should not be mocked by American attempts to appease the Palestinians for their bloody and dogmatic avoidance of negotiations for almost two years now. After all, Israel also has a problem that might be called "homeland security." For their provisional crackdowns on terrorism, will George W. Bush reward the Palestinians with a provisional state? If so, then he is a monumental hypocrite, and no friend of a genuine peace.

©2002 - The New Republic

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