Palestine FAR

Crossroads in ore than the stillness of a Jerusalem dawn and the bustle of Tel Aviv shopping was shattered by the latest Palestinian suicide bombings.

The eight suicide bombings that brutally and indiscriminately killed Israelis and others in the past two years caused scores of personal tragedies, enraged Israelis, divided Palestinians, and momentarily upset movement toward Israeli-Arab peace. But during most of that time, whether an interruption was caused by such bombs or by an Israeli settler shooting Palestinians at prayer, peace talks quickly resumed. The promise of eventual neighborly normality inched nearer.

Tragically, the latest bombings put far more at risk, even though they were apparently perpetrated by a splinter of a splinter of the Palestinians' Hamas minority. The risk is higher because of the coming Israeli elections. It now becomes thinkable that the long, seemingly inexorable march of a Rabin-and Peres-led Israel toward peace and profitable economic growth for all could be aborted. As is often the case in politics and war, opposite extremes reinforce one another undermines compromisers.

That should not be allowed to happen. It will not benefit Israel's security in the long run. It will not help Palestinians achieve their goal of nationhood on viable territory. It will not help deserts to bloom or economies to grow in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. It will jeopardize US and European efforts to ensure stability in the crucial Middle East oil fields.

The key decisions are up to Israeli voters and Yasser Arafat's still-unseasoned Palestinian Authority as it tackles Hamas splinters. But the US and major European players can help by reinforcing assurances to Israelis and following through on promises of job and construction aid to Palestinians.

Then, it's up to the majorities of Israelis and Palestinians who are sensible to move beyond defeatism and fear that would only make matters worse. The Mideast should not be sent back to the days of Arab-Israeli deadlock.

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