Israelis, Palestinians face hard choices with own extremists
After suicide attack, focus shifts to thwarting militants; Israel looks to deter its extremists.
Funerals for four victims of a Palestinian suicide bombing and fading hopes for tranquility after four years of fighting weighed upon Israel Sunday, as the government turned to a second front, the brewing internal confrontation with the far right.Skip to next paragraph
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Thirty-four people wounded from Friday's attack in Tel Aviv remained hospitalized Sunday, victims of a bombing that marked the biggest challenge yet to the cease-fire agreed to by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas early this month.
While refraining from any immediate military retaliation, Mr. Sharon told his cabinet Sunday there would be no "political progress" unless the Palestinian Authority (PA) undertook a "determined operation to eradicate the terrorist organizations and their infrastructure." He warned that the Israeli army would act if PA security forces failed to do so. Israel also announced it was suspending plans to hand over West Bank cities to PA control.
Friday's Tel Aviv bombing jolted Israelis out of a sense of greater security they had enjoyed in recent weeks.
Palestinian analysts predicted that Mr. Abbas, who condemned the bombing, could make further arrests, beyond the two suspects apprehended in the West Bank by the PA over the weekend. But, they added, he was unlikely to undertake the comprehensive campaign demanded by Sharon.
The bombing, analysts say, harms Abbas by shifting the focus away from Israeli practices such as settlement expansion and the construction of the West Bank separation barrier. It lends weight in the battle over the international community to Sharon's insistence that Abbas move against militants.
Amos Gilead, an aide to Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, said Israel was exercising restraint in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the hopes that Abbas would understand he must take action. "There is a gentle sapling and we have to see whether it will develop into an oak," he said of Abbas, in remarks to Army Radio.
At the same Israeli cabinet meeting in which Sharon charged Abbas with cracking down on militants, ministers and Shin Bet director Avi Dichter discussed how to deal with the Israeli far-right in the run-up to the Gaza withdrawal, which begins in July.
Citing what she says is a rising threat of violence by right-wing extremists, Justice Minister Tzipi Livne unveiled a plan to crack down on those deemed to be inciting violence. Ms. Livne has called for the creation of a unit of state attorneys who would work throughout the country and deal exclusively with crimes expected to emanate from far right opposition to the pull out.
While in Livne's view this could thwart some far-right violence, some settler leaders have termed her envisioned unit "the thought police." They say the plan is an effort to limit freedom of speech and quash arguments against the withdrawal.
"The greatest danger to democracy is Tzipi Livne. In the name of defending democracy, [the government] is eradicating it," says Elyakim Haetzni, a former far-right member of the Knesset. At the same time, Mr. Haetzni says the Gaza withdrawal, if carried out will be "a crime against humanity."
The bitter recriminations underscore that the distrust between the government and opponents of the Gaza withdrawal is widening into a chasm as the start of its implementation in July moves closer. And the hard-line, ideological settlers are feeling increasingly beleaguered. In a very real sense, they inhabit a world apart from most Israelis, one in which they see themselves as being victimized.