The West Bank bombings ought to shock all parties into a new zeal for a just peace. Yet the opposite effect is threatened. And the US State Department did not help matters when its spokesman predicted the terrorist attacks on Palestinian mayors would be "a psychological and political impediment" to the resumption of Camp David negotiations.
Weight may have been lent to such an outlook by the expressions of anger and fear surrounding the agony of the victims. Some Israelis seemed to take egregious satisfaction in the onslaught, raising questions about whether Arabs and Jews could ever coexist. Some Palestinians threatened reprisals, though the perpetrators had not been identified. Such were the contributions to a climate for continuing the cycle of violence which was renewed in the past month by the slaying of five Israeli settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron.
But in other voices lay a potential for salvaging something of value from the grim circumstances. Israeli Prime Minister Begin not only promised "the most intensive investigation" of the crimes but expressed sorrow over the injuries -- one mayor lost both legs -- and commiseration with the victims' families. The State Department also expressed sadness and a call for justice.
It is on such attitudes that a restored thrust for peace must be built. They seem to speak to a growing sentiment in Israeli itself for reaching a settlement. Part of the reason for the resignation of Ezer Wiezman as defense minister was said to be his concern for more Israeli initiative in the Palestinian autonomy negotiations. Recently 250 prominent Israelis -- including current members of Parliament and former generals and government ministers -- issued a statement against extremism and for "the way of coexistence and of tolerance."
This spirit seems to be violated by the government support of Jewish settlements in occupied Arab territories. It also seemed to be violated by the Israeli troops moving in and breaking locks to prevent businesses from being closed in a Palestinian strike to protest the bombings.
Israel will have to proceed with care if it is not to encourage further alienation of even the moderate Palestinians. The swift resignation of Arab city officials after the bombings suggests the strains that could be put on the autonomy negotiations which from the first have failed to attract Palestinian participation.
Palestinians, too, including the Palestine Liberation Organization, must proceed with care. To use the bombings as an excuse for further terrorism would damage the PLO's progress in gaining international acceptability as the Palestinians' diplomatic representative.
But totting up the political and diplomatic factors has to be subordinate at this moment to the human tragedy that is being prolonged by every delay in the peace process. Here the deepest religious feelings of Jews and Muslims should hold out a challenge and a hope. After such a strong start toward reconciliation in recent years, there must be ways to go forward together in the spirit of these words from the Koran:
"And before this, was the book of Moses as a guide and a mercy: and this book confirms (it) in the Arabic tongue; to admonish the unjust and as Glad Tidings to those who do right."