Answering Terror

IN Israel, Britain, Spain, and Sri Lanka those most savage of extortionists, terrorists, are still trying to panic (or just wear down) leaders to gain what the bombers can't win otherwise. Their consistent lack of success doesn't seem to penetrate. The grisly romanticism of killing (and dying) for a cause appears to become an end in itself.

Facing this, sensible publics and political leaders have to avoid two pitfalls. One is retreating into fear, hysteria, and revenge fantasies. The other is angrily destroying the rational processes of peaceful settlement that provide the only route to ending long-playing separatist battles.

The only route?

Hard-liners scorn the long, tedious, often collapse-threatened processes of dispute settlement. They want crushing action to obliterate opponents. Make a desert and call it peace. But the days of declaring Carthage must be destroyed and then destroying it are gone.

Most Palestinians have discovered over half a century that they can't destroy Israel. And most Israelis know in their hearts that they can't obliterate the Palestinians. Both sides have had a taste of the mental and commercial benefits that can emerge when something like the peace between Jordan and Israel takes hold.

Hamas, the IRA, ETA Basque extremists, and Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka all use random bombings and assassination as weapons. But each requires a different response.

There is extra risk in Israel's case because elections loom. All the hard-won gains pressed forward inexorably by the odd troika of Rabin-Peres-Arafat are in jeopardy. But, given the provocation, Prime Minister Peres is taking the right course. He has gone all-out against future suicide bombers (that fragment of a faction of Hamas). He has pressed Arafat to do the same. But he hasn't really abrogated the peace dealings with Arafat. That process is alive, however shakily.

British and Irish leaders are likewise determined not to let IRA bombers gain from terrorism, while making clear that resumption of peace bargaining is available once a verified cease-fire is restored.

It's not yet clear how Spain's new government will deal with terror. But it shouldn't ignore moderate Basques.

Looking back over the century now exiting, anyone prone to respect results over slogans must see that a combination of strength and patient bargaining makes the neighborhood of nations safer. Examples abound.

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