After nine months of relative quiet, Israeli-Palestinian relations have turned bloody again in the past week, with bombings, rocket attacks and assassinations threatening to end the fragile dialogue. There’s hope that cool heads may yet stave off chaos, but it will take strong nerves on both sides.
The quiet took hold last February, when Hamas, the powerful Islamic radical group, was pressured by Egypt and the Palestinian Authority into holding its fire while Israel withdrew from Gaza. There have been repeated violations, including bombings, drive-by shootings and a steady barrage of rocket attacks on Israeli towns. Deaths have been relatively few, however. Israeli retaliations have been restrained, and all sides have agreed to keep calm.
The radicals’ calm was due partly to international pressure and partly to pressure from the Palestinian public, which is tired of the violence and chaos. Hamas plans to run candidates in Palestinian legislative elections next January and fears voter wrath.
The killing returned in a serious way last week, with the suicide bombing in Hadera that killed five Israelis and wounded 55. The bombing was claimed by Islamic Jihad, a small faction supported by Iran and Hezbollah that doesn’t recognize the cease-fire. Israeli analysts say Islamic Jihad has no more than 4% or 5% support from the Palestinian public, and so has little reason to fear angering the street. It fears only its masters in Tehran, who made their intentions all too clear this past week.
There is little Israel can do but hit back hard and try to root it out. And it has done so, launching a series of helicopter attacks against Islamic Jihad leaders and their allies in rogue gangs nominally tied to Fatah. The Israeli counterstrikes had killed 11 suspects as the Forward went to press this week. Fighting was erupting on the ground, killing an Israeli soldier for the first time in months.
Surprisingly, dialogue has continued despite the fighting. Israel concluded an agreement this week with the European Union to post inspectors at the Gaza-Egypt border. Goods continue to flow from Gaza to Israel and on to world markets.
Both sides, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, face domestic pressure to break off the relationship and go back to a war footing — Israel because of the authority’s failure to dismantle the terrorist groups, the authority because of Israel’s counter-strikes.
Both sides should resist the pressure. They’ve been in that movie before, and it brought only grief. The war on terrorism and the search for peace can and must proceed simultaneously.