With yesterday’s horrific bus suicide bombing which killed 20 Israeli civilians including 6 children, Islamic Jihad has now retaliated for the Israeli assassination of one of its leaders last week (see my post on this Israel Assassinates Another Palestinian Militant Leader). Even more callous and stupefying was the Palestinian response in Hebron where firecrackers lit the night sky in celebration according to today’s New York Times.
In times of national mourning like this, it feels almost callous (but necessary nevertheless) to point out the obvious: an Israeli policy of targeted assassination is bound to yield the Palestinian response that it has. In effect, the Israelis have fallen into a trap of their own making. They told Bush and the world that they will pursue and eradicate “ticking time bombs” during the current (soon to be late and lamented) ceasefire. The problem with this policy (as reasonable as it may appear) is that “ceasefire” can mean only one thing: a complete cessation of hostile action against one’s enemy. It doesn’t mean partial ceasefire. For the Israelis, Alice in Wonderland’s dictum “a word means what I want it to mean” holds sway. If you do not fully honor the ceasefire (as neither Israel nor the militants have), eventually it will die. And this is what’s happening now with both the ceasefire and the promising start to the Road Map peace process.
Let me be clear, I harbor no sympathy for the bombmakers and killers. I think they should be opposed with every force that is available (and I wish the Palestinians themselves would do this). But I categorically reject the idea that two warring parties who call a ceasefire can continue to murder each other without there being dire consequences.
It appears now that the only hope will be for Mahmoud Abbas and Mohammed Dahlan to step up and take on the Palestinian militants with force. If they don’t (and I doubt they will), then the Mideast will spiral downward into the chaos that previously held sway here before the Road Map process began.
Another possibility might be for Bush and Powell to put a full court press on Sharon to completely cease hostile action against Palestinian militants. This development, which would bring the peace process back from the brink, is highly unlikely to succeed since Sharon seems hardly likely to unilaterally limit his military options. It’s just not his style.
I shudder to think where we are headed now.