In Israel, a Clampdown and a Big Question: Where Is the US?

Opinions differ in Israel about whether the fruits of the Middle East peace process are now as crushed as the watermelons that carpeted a central Jerusalem market after two suicide bombers from Islamic militant groups killed themselves and 13 others Wednesday, wounding some 170 others.

Many Israelis and Palestinians are calling for the peace process to continue despite the massacre. Some complain that the United States is not using its position as a main sponsor of the Olso peace accords to force the two sides into a settlement. The American position has been that Israelis and Palestinians needed to be coaxed - not coerced - into reconciling their differences. But some here argue that the two sides have become too paralyzed by terror and mistrust to make advances on their own.

"Israel and the Palestinians alone are incapable any longer of reaching an agreement on their own that will ensure true peace," wrote David Grossman, one of Israel's premier novelists, in a front-page editorial yesterday in the daily newspaper Ma'ariv. "They are captives to their history and psychology, and have lost the ability to escape it," the left-wing writer penned. "If anyone in the world still cares what is happening here, it is better that he do something to force the leaders of the sides to begin talking seriously. The American style of 'letting the sides ripen on their own' has proven to be ineffective when speaking of two peoples with suicidal tendencies."

The frame of mind was entirely different, however, in the inner circle that advises Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. After a long meeting in the wake of the bombing, the Cabinet has decided to cut off talks with the Palestinian Authority until the PA will "honor all of its commitments, including - first and foremost - to fight the terrorist organizations and their infrastructure," a government communiqu says.

In addition, Mr. Netanyahu's Cabinet decided that the Israeli Army would carry out raids against suspected Islamic activists in "Area A," territory that is now under the exclusive control of the PA. Under the accords, Israel is not allowed to enter these areas without permission from Palestinian security officials.

Israel showed a new willingness to overstep the accords' limits on entry to Area A last week when its undercover officers entered the West Bank city of Jenin and seized a Palestinian convict who had escaped from jail. Israeli officials say there has been a sharp decrease in the PA's cooperation in fighting terror and that some of its senior security officials have been involved in planning attacks on Israelis.

The Israeli government says that since the Palestinians had failed to uphold their obligations to prevent terrorism, they cannot expect Israel to keep its promise to stay out of areas turned over to Palestinian control. "We don't have to respect any red lines," says David Bar-Illan, a top aide to Netanyahu. "The whole world recognizes the right of governments to protect their citizens."

Yesterday, Israel began arresting suspected members of Islamic militant organizations, raiding several West Bank villages. So far, officials say, the raids all have taken place in areas that are still under Israeli military control.

Israeli warnings that it might begin operating in all areas of the West Bank met with criticism from Palestinian security officials. "We will view this as a national offense, and if this happens Palestinians will have to defend themselves," Jibril Rajoub, the chief of Preventative Security forces in the West Bank, said in a radio interview.

The Cabinet also recommended the following steps:

* Issuing a warrant for the arrest of Brig. Gen. Ghazi Jabali, the chief of the Palestinian police. The Israeli government accused General Jabali of sending policemen to shoot at Jewish settlers in the West Bank earlier this month.

* Requesting that the US and other nations suspend aid to the PA. Other measures may include stopping the flow of tax revenues to the Palestinians and jamming Palestinian radio and television stations.

* Instituting a full closure on Palestinian travel to Israel, as well as an "internal" closure that prevents travel between the seven West Bank cities under Palestinian control.

Israeli security officials have not ruled out the possibility of more attacks. One letter claiming responsibility from the Islamic extremist group Hamas said that if Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails were not released by Sunday, more attacks would follow.

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