TEL AVIV — Insisting that life and holiday celebrations must go on, Israelis swept up the last shards of glass yesterday and reopened a trendy cafe that was the target of a Palestinian suicide bombing in which four were killed and about 40 wounded only 48 hours earlier.
The tables at the Apropo restaurant here soon filled up yesterday, and costume parties marking the Jewish holiday of Purim continued almost as usual, an intentional insistence on not letting Friday's suicide bombing by the Islamic group Hamas put a dent in the festival. The attempt at normalcy may also be aimed at not letting the terror attack sway Israeli public opinion about controversial moves by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In Jerusalem, Mr. Netanyahu's Cabinet was meeting in an all-day emergency session to determine how it would react to the bombing and a weekend full of the most-severe Israeli-Palestinian clashes in six months, violence that Netanyahu says has been incited by Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. Mr. Arafat denies the charges and has condemned the bombing, but says that Israel's policies are forcing the peace process into a dead end. Aides to Netanyahu said the government was considering cutting off political talks with the Palestinian Authority and maintaining security cooperation only to prevent the violence from spiraling any higher.
Netanyahu rejected linkage between the Hamas bombing and his decision to start a housing project on East Jerusalem land Palestinians claim as part of their future capital.
Israelis put the blame for the bombing solely on the group which took responsibility for it: Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement. But despite the Palestinian explanation of events, few Israelis blamed the attack on Netanyahu's controversial decision to build.
With Hamas promising to resume its bombing campaign if Israel does not stop building the settlement - and world powers urging Israel not to move forward with its building plans - Palestinians hope Netanyahu will face a public outcry over his decision. And yet random bloodshed in Israeli malls, buses and cafes may have the opposite effect.
On the heels of other suicide bombings since the start of the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Israeli public has historically swung to the right. Attacks like Friday's - aimed not at the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories but in otherwise peaceful cities - seem to increase the sentiment that Palestinians are still bent on using violence to win back all of what was historically Palestine. Hamas, as well as several other Palestinian groups that reject the 1993 Oslo Accords, have vowed to fight to gain all of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Throughout the weekend, Israelis gathered at the bombed downtown cafe. "Arafat doesn't need to personally order violence to give the signal that it's OK," says Moti Heightner, making note of Arafat's recent release of top Hamas activists from Palestinian jails. "The government was supposed to build in Jerusalem a long time ago, so why not now? We don't need anybody's permission to build in our capital. I think they have to stop the process and think about who we are making peace with."
At a party planned near the site of a previous bombing, the Friedman family celebrated Purim. "We're angry, but not at Netanyahu," says Tova Friedman. "If they're blowing us up, that's something they would have done anyway, no matter what government was in power." Her husband Eli agrees. "We cannot give the Palestinians the chance to feel good about bombing us. If we don't have our holiday, we give them a second victory."
Despite expressions of support for resolve against terrorism, Israelis' backing for Netanyahu's tough stand on the controversial housing project is wavering. A poll two weeks ago showed the number of Israelis who were happy with Netanyahu fell to 38 percent, a drop since the Hebron agreement in January.
"His popularity isn't shooting up, and maybe the Cabinet will take extra-stringent decisions against terrorism to prove they're going to be macho," says pollster Hanoch Smith.