'The plan is destructively simple: make it impossible for them to live together'

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The Independent Online
The fourth suicide bomb in nine days, killing up to 20 people in the heart of Tel Aviv, has torpedoed the hopes of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It has mortally wounded the government of Shimon Peres, the Israeli Prime Minister and architect of the Oslo accords, which laid the basis for Palestinian self-determination.

Israelis feel that an agreement which was meant to bring them peace has brought them only war, and it is an understandable feeling. The suicide bomb is a peculiarly effective weapon of pure terror. There is no obvious way of stopping them; they strike while people are catching a bus, crossing the road, or, as yesterday, shopping on the corner of Dizengoff Street and King George Street in central Tel Aviv. It is a highly effective weapon.

The reaction of ordinary Israelis is to strike back blindly, almost regardless of the target. The government has now told Yasser Arafat that either he crushes Hamas, the movement from which the bombers come, or they will do it for him. It is a threat with dire consequences: it probably means invading Gaza or the other newly autonomous Palestinian areas.

Mr Arafat made it clear last night that he will go some way to meeting Israel's demands. He has already begun to round up Hamas leaders and activists. Israeli opinion demands that he go further, and that everybody associated with Hamas should be behind bars. But this is unlikely to resolve anything in the long term. The suicide bombers so far identified came from Hebron, south of Jerusalem, which is not under Mr Arafat's control.

Military action by Israel will not end the suicide bombs. If anything it means that there will be more of them. But the idea, which Mr Peres originally tried to sell, that peace, like war, has its sacrifices, has lost whatever appeal it had. After the bomb in Jerusalem on Sunday the crowds shouted: "No more victims of peace."

It has all happened with extraordinary speed. Only ten days ago Mr Peres seemed to be on the verge of a landslide victory at the polls. Almost 60 per cent of Israelis said they approved of the Oslo accords. There had been no bomb attacks for seven months. The right-wing West Bank settlers had been discredited by last summer's violence which culminated in the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister, last November.

It was, we can see with hindsight, a honeymoon period, a moment of calm in the shadow of the murder of Mr Rabin. Last year Israelis and foreigners alike had forgotten the fanaticism of the Jewish religious nationalists determined to hold on to the God-given territory of the West Bank. They remembered only when Yigal Amir fired three bullets into the back of Mr Rabin.

This year it was easy enough, as Israel smoothly withdrew from the West Bank towns, to forget that Islamic religious nationalists had not gone away.

The assassination of Yahyah Ayyash, the master bomb-maker of Hamas, started the present round of tit-for-tat killings. Some retaliation had been expected. What had not been expected was that vengeance would be so devastating, sudden, deadly. It is difficult to accept that Ayyash alone was the motive. Twice the bombers said they had called a truce; twice their words were contradicted by another bomb. The plan is destructively simple: to make it impossible for Israelis and Palestinians to live together. It is a chilling logic. Whatever Hamas faction is responsible for the bombs it is reasonable for Israel to demand that the group be wiped out in Gaza. Mr Arafat cannot continue manoeuvres to split Hamas. Even if the cells carrying out the bombings are based in Hebron and Jerusalem, both controlled by Israel, it is Mr Arafat who has to close Hamas down.

In return it is reasonable for Mr Arafat to get the powers of a proper state. One of the reasons why the military wing of Hamas has been able to operate is that the West bank has two authorities, one Israeli and one Palestinian. This dual power was always unsatisfactory. It was always going to produce friction and, in places like Hebron, a vacuum of authority.

Further reports, page 9

Peace blown apart? page 15