Leading Article: Power for Palestine is the way to Israeli security

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The Independent Online
Bombs in a Jerusalem fruit market will probably delay the resumption of negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian proto- government. The "peace process" - that stale phrase - may be dead as a result of these latest deaths. But terror in crowded shopping precincts will not prevent what has to take place sooner or later in some form: dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians leading to the establishment in all or part of Gaza and the West Bank of a political entity in whose interests it is to maintain order.

That proposition can be advanced with certainty because no other passes muster. Horror and disgust at yesterday's atrocity - "some peace" cried a man at the market bitterly - must not displace the cool lessons of history and experience. What are the options for Israel? The Netanyahu government could move to reoccupy the West Bank, stretching its budget and testing its military capacity to the limit, distorting Israeli economy and society, corrupting that country's politics. And what would be achieved? A temporary peace, broken before long by terror campaigns joined by those Palestinian "moderates" who now have an interest in order, aided from outside Palestine. Israel has been there before and has all the blood and tears of the occupation from 1967 to show for it.

Benjamin Netanyahu has been sorely tested during his year and a bit in office, and has been found wanting. Yet these next few days will be a test as never before. How does he answer that man in the market? A true leader of the nation of Israel would have to reply, resignedly, that declaring war on the Palestinians - all Palestinians - is a recipe for yet greater bloodshed, many more incidents not just in Jerusalem but throughout the country. A true leader would say that Palestinian genocide - which is what the more extreme elements in the Knesset seem to envisage - is not an option for a country that either claims to be civilised or tries still to make claims on the West's loyalty or resources. A true leader would say that treating with Yasser Arafat is the only game in town, whatever the misgivings. And that is for one very good reason: that Yasser Arafat also can be made to have an interest in peace, in preventing terrorist bombs in crowded fruit markets. Israel is not the only country which has to swallow and sit down with people whose hands have held guns; besides, some of the nation's leaders were themselves "terrorists" who, in their cause, set bombs in crowded places.

Immediate reactions to the bombing yesterday were bleakly negative about the prospects of the "peace process" resuming quickly. The Jordanian Foreign Minister Fayez Tarawneh said the explosions had taken place "at a time when we started feeling positive moves in the peace process". The fractured phrasing was apt. Since March, when the Israelis went ahead with the construction of homes on Palestinian land, the prospects of moving forward had diminished. Yet during the past week the skies had lightened. A decision on further construction was postponed. President Clinton's peace envoy, Dennis Ross, was due to come. Committee peace talks were set to resume, for the first time in four months.

And now? Wishful thinking does not help in these circumstances, yet it was hard not to be impressed by the speed and sincerity with which the Jordanians and Egyptians responded with sorrow and condemnation to the bombings. King Hussain remains a player and regional arbiter, his stature increased by the nature of his response to this tragedy. Mr Arafat was also quickly on the telephone. The Israeli government response to Palestinian condolences was brusque, Mr Netanyahu saying he wanted deeds, not words of condolence.

But he must see that he is in a position to empower the Palestinian leader to act. Let us, for the sake of the argument, say that Yasser Arafat wants simultaneously to move to negotiation while keeping relations with the perpetrators of terror (whether to influence them or control them is not the issue). Northern Irish experience surely proves that the offer of negotiation can force the Adams figure to assume more rather than less responsibility over the gunmen and bombers. In Israel, the more Yasser Arafat is offered by way of the trappings of state power, the more he is threatened by terrorism, whether in the areas controlled by the Palestine Authority or in Israel proper. The more the Palestine Authority is treated as a government, the more it will be required to rein in Hamas - if only for the sake of self-interest. Similar points apply to Lebanon and, by extension, to Syria: the closer the prospect of a settlement with the Syrians, the narrower the scope for Islamic Jihad's operations.

President Clinton ought to think again over deferring his envoy's journey. Now, more than ever, his good offices are needed. If the Israelis genuinely believe that Yasser Arafat instigated yesterday's outrage there is no way any dialogue can take place. But that, thankfully, was not the tenor of Mr Netanyahu's words. The Americans thus have their opening for persuading the Israeli Prime Minister that the Palestine Authority is his nation's best guarantee of security; that is to say, more power to the Palestinian state entity would translate into greater regional safety. Of course Mr Netanyahu will also have to lift himself above his party allegiances and face down the hardliners who surround him. Is he capable of such statesmanship, especially at this fraught time when voices close to him will be crying for bloody revenge? For the sake of Israel he has to keep striving. Until the Palestinians can be made responsible for themselves there can be no immunity from terrible acts like that in the Mahana Yehuda.