AS Israeli and Palestinian negotiators sit down in Cairo today to discuss the next phase of Palestinian autonomy, Israel is reeling from a recent wave of terrorist attacks.
Last week, a member of Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement, brutally killed a young Israeli soldier. A week earlier, Islamic militants gunned down a rabbi in the West Bank. In October, a suicide bomber blew up a bus in Tel Aviv, killing himself and 22 others. And another soldier was kidnapped and killed in October.
Israel has responded by launching a massive crackdown on and manhunt for Hamas guerrillas in the West Bank. Security forces say arrests in connection with the October suicide bombing already brought to 400 the number of suspects detained in the past few months.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin vowed that peace efforts with the Palestinians would continue despite the terrorist attacks, and he deserves credit for this. ``We shall continue on our road to peace and to fight those who oppose it,'' he told reporters in Tel Aviv. But on Sunday, Israeli officials began a policy debate over whether or not to pull troops out of the West Bank before elections because of serious security concerns.
Israel is right to take these countermeasures against this round of terrorism. The Palestinian leadership also must continue to distance itself from terrorist acts and make clear that it will never accept terrorism as a legitimate method of doing business. If it does not, the Palestinian Authority will not be accepted by the international community, including other Arab states.
The danger of the crackdown is that it may increase militancy among Hamas, turning it into a martyr in the eyes of many in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel and the Palestinian Authority must take strong measures to stop the radicals and their killing but also consider other steps to keep the peace process on track.
The negotiators in Cairo are expected to discuss Israeli troop withdrawals and Palestinian elections. Mr. Arafat must move forward on elections. Israel has rejected any suggestion that Hamas be allowed to participate, but ultimately this should be the Palestinian Authority's decision. For this even to be an option, Hamas would have to show that it's willing to accept a participatory approach to government and reject violence. And this is possible only if there is levelheaded leadership on both sides.