`Peace of the brave' has been blown apart

David Horovitz, in a personal view, says Arafat will pay for his failures to deal with extremists, writes David Horovitz
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Yasser Arafat liked to call it "the peace of the brave". Only he wasn't brave enough to make it work. And yesterday, as another number 18 bus blew up in central Jerusalem, was the day that proved it.

Yitzhak Rabin used to say that he had taken "a gamble for peace" - gambling that Mr Arafat was a partner who could deliver. Yesterday, as they scraped the human flesh off the buildings on Jaffa Road again, that gamble came up empty.

A few hours after the latest Hamas suicide bomber blew up himself and 18 innocent Israelis to smithereens, Mr Arafat sent out a convoy of armoured personnel carriers into the streets of Gaza. And he spoke of his determination "to take serious steps ... to prevent these awful terrorist activities."

The rhetoric was impressive. The show of force even more so. But the sight of yet another bus reduced to mangled strips of metal spoke louder still.

Rabin was right to attempt reconciliation with the Palestinians, right to recognise that only Mr Arafat had the credibility to make it work, right to realise that unless he took a chance back in September 1993, the shift in Palestinian public sympathies from PLO moderation to Hamas viciousness would soon render Mr Arafat marginal.

The problem was that Mr Arafat wanted it all: peace with Israel, but no confrontation with the anti-peace forces among his own population.

From the spring of 1994, through to the summer of 1995, the bombers staged attack after attack inside Israel. Mr Arafat's condemnations were tardy and sometimes equivocal. But he privately assured the Rabin government he was doing his best to counter the militants. And from late last summer, the situation calmed. So much so that when the Oslo II accord expanding Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank was signed at the White House last September, Rabin felt able to joke light- heartedly with Mr Arafat. Two years earlier, he had hesitated to shake the PLO leader's hand.

When Rabin was assassinated, it looked too late to change a fait accompli. And by last December, when Israeli troops left Bethlehem in time for Mr Arafat's joyous Christmas homecoming, the autonomy process seemed to have moved beyond the point of no return.

But a week ago Hamas shattered the optimism. Suicide bombers struck twice: once to devastating effect in Jerusalem, and then in Ashkelon.

Now was the time for Mr Arafat to prove himself. At an extraordinary meeting, the Israeli army's chief of staff, Anmon Shahak, handed Mr Arafat a list of 15 names - the Hamas members behind the bombings. Go and get them, he demanded. Stop them before they strike again.

But Mr Arafat did not go and get them. Instead his security forces arrested hundreds of alleged Islamic radicals - but not one from the Israeli list.

And so when the bombers struck, it wasn't just another attack. It looked very much like the end of the road. Because no Israeli government, no matter how committed to co-existence, no matter how understanding of Mr Arafat's internal difficulties, in going to war with Hamas can afford to leave the security of its citizens in the hands of an unresponsive "partner".

As Israel now tries to halt the bombings, it may resort to sending the army back into areas newly handed over to Mr Arafat's control. Indeed, there are those who believe Mr Arafat is secretly hoping Israel will do the job for him - take on the militants with the determination he has felt unable to display. Perhaps.

What is certain is that the confrontation will come. Mr Arafat has ducked it. And it will be all the harder, probably impossible, to find a majority of Israelis willing to trust him again in the future