Bombings test commitment to peace process Israeli Peres wavers in shadow of the bombers

SHIMON PERES called it the worst week of his life. The three suicide attacks by Islamic fanatics, which killed a total of 26 Israelis and foreign students, have also blown a hole in the Prime Minister's self confidence. And, in the space of a few days the Labour leader's ascendancy over his right-wing Likud challenger for the 29 May elections, Binyamin Netanyahu, dissolved from 15 per cent to zero.

"I tried to keep calm," Mr Peres confessed to the mass circulation Yediot Aharonot this weekend, "to move the country from one state of mind to another state of mind, like after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. But how much peace of mind can a human being retain after such horror?"

Mr Netanyahu, by contrast, is beginning to project himself as a statesman. He appealed for restraint from his more hot-headed followers. He didn't need to exploit the atrocities. Hamas, the Islamic revolutionaries who reject any compromise with the Jewish state and do not hesitate to use violence to wreck the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, were doing the job for him. Asked why he thought he would make a better prime minister, a resurgent Mr Netanyahu beamed: "We have better ideas."

As soon as he looked like a winner, his Likud doubters fell silent. No one is talking any longer about replacing him with the former justice minister, Dan Meridor. And David Levy, the Moroccan-born ex-foreign minister who threatened to split the right-wing vote, is returning to the fold. This weekend, Labour is regrouping and preparing its counter attack. It finds nuggets of comfort amid the devastation of bombs and the opinion polls.

A Gallup survey in the tabloid Ma'ariv logged 66 per cent of all voters still supporting the peace process. While 32 per cent thought that stopping the process would increase terrorism, about the same number thought it would decrease it. But more than 60 per cent acknowledged that there was no policy that could halt the attacks completely. And only 12 per cent thought Likud could do it.

"Despite the bombings, there is no significant change in the attitude towards the peace process," says Yossi Beilin, a Peres supporter who is now a full, if defiant, cabinet minister. "I can, therefore, imagine and hope that the changes in voting preferences are a spontaneous reaction to the violence. Three months is long enough for the impact to fade.

"Even some of the bereaved families came to the Prime Minister and asked him to continue the peace process. There is a kind of maturity. People understand much better that strengthening the opposition to peace, or stopping the peace process, is exactly the dream of terrorists and means playing into their hands. For the first time, even the Likud did not demand that we halt the peace process."

Yet Mr Beilin knows as well as anyone that more suicide bombings could make this sound like wishful thinking. The right already has its equivalent of the spontaneous shrines that sprang up in memory of Yitzhak Rabin. On a gritty car park next to the site of the Jerusalem bus bombing, someone has written on the wall: "Peres is a victim of peace." Someone else has crossed out "of peace".

When the Prime Minister inspected the carnage last Sunday, far right demonstrators chanted: "Peres is a murderer! Peres is next in line!" The inhibitions on the right inspired by the Rabin assassination are evaporating.

The government has announced a more rigorous watch on the border between the Palestinian-controlled areas and Israel proper. It is trying to step up protection on buses. The security services have been ordered to "locate and eradicate" the bombers and their handlers.

Yet for the short term, Mr Peres is acutely and frustratedly aware that Israelis are beholden to Yasser Arafat for their personal safety. Only his Palestinian police can disable the Hamas infrastructure. They arrested 200 Islamic militants last week, but they remain reluctant to confront the leaders. Mr Arafat has his own ways and his own agenda.

Shlomo Avineri, a political science professor and former foreign ministry director general, explains: "Most Israelis are ready for far-reaching territorial compromises, though they remain sceptical of the PLO. The way to sell an agreement is to convince people that it gives them peace and quiet. If it doesn't do that, the whole thing isn't worth a candle.

"It all hinges on what Arafat's response will be and whether there will be further acts of terrorism between now and the election. Arafat has to convince the Israeli people that they are buying peace. If he does not convince them, not only will there not be peace, there will be no Arafat. The Hamas people are after him as much as they are after the peace agreement."

As Shimon Peres put it to a visiting European minister: "We do not want to make Arafat collapse. We are not asking him to serve the state of Israel. But we want to make it clear to him that he is liable to fall victim himself if he continues with the way he is acting today."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot