Secretary of State Madeleine Albright faces a central question in her current Middle East tour: How can Israelis find security?
Two recent suicide bombings in Jerusalem and continuing clashes in Lebanon give the matter special urgency. The peace process is unlikely to resume without at least some answer.
To Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, security lies in ending terrorism - primarily through pressure on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to round up suspected terrorists. The pressure comes through withholding funds, closing borders with the West Bank and Gaza, rounding up suspects in villages under Israeli control, freezing further withdrawals, and threatening raids into Palestinian areas.
In the Israeli demands for arrests, little distinction appears to be made between those directly responsible for terrorism and those in organizations that oppose the peace process. Such a broad sweep defies a judicial approach to the issue.
Mr. Netanyahu's policies may not bring the security Israel seeks. Campaigns of terror carried on by radical fringes of political movements are not easy to defeat.
The British never totally curbed the activities of the Zionist underground, the Irgun Zvai Leumi, during the Mandate period. Irgun's activism ended only with the British withdrawal.
The current cease-fire in Northern Ireland represents only a suspension of IRA terrorism while political talks go on. In cases such as Peru, where a government has full jurisdiction, the jailing of Shining Path activists can reduce terror. But Israel has no such total control over the Palestinian population.
Many in Israel look to a successful peace process to bring ultimate security. Whatever the motives of the recent terrorists, however, Israeli measures following the bombing effectively stopped the fragile efforts to negotiate new arrangements between Israel and the Palestinians. Ironically, with this result, terrorist objectives may have run parallel with those of some Israelis.
Security also lies in an effective working relationship with the Palestinians. Mr. Arafat is no easy interlocutor and his autocratic ways, often disturbing political rhetoric, and tolerance of corruption, do not help the Palestinian cause in Israel or abroad. But by deft payments to supporters, occasional embraces of extremists, and devious strategies, he has maintained some control over fractious elements and has provided a peace partner to Israel. Arafat has taken steps to meet Israeli demands, but he can only go so far. Politically, he can point out to his people few benefits from cooperation with Israel. In the Palestinian view, Oslo commitments have not been met. Further, his community, angered by job losses, home destructions, humiliating travel restrictions, and Israeli settlement expansion is in no mood to support a leader who appears to do Israel's bidding. Would Israel's security be more assured by Arafat's departure and a fractured contest for Palestinian leadership?
It is difficult to determine exactly how Netanyahu sees the outcome of present policies. Certainly some within his circle would prefer a reassertion of total Israeli control over Palestinian lands. But would the re-creation of a sullen, occupied Palestinian community end terrorism and increase Israel's security? It did not do so before Oslo; it is doubtful such a policy would succeed now.
Clearly, public outrage demanded that Netanyahu react harshly after the July 30 bombing. But some Israeli military and even some within Netanyahu's own circle questioned whether the measures were in Israel's longer term interests. Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy on Aug. 27 said, "No one should get used to an idea that prolonged punishment will advance the peace process."
There can be no civilized rationale for acts of terror that kill and maim innocent civilians. But in an area of intense, unresolved conflict, such acts cannot be ruled out.
To make the peace process hostage to an end to terrorism, as Netanyahu has done, is to open the way for extremists to sabotage the process at any time. Even a full return to the concept of land for peace and a recognition of Palestinian rights in Jerusalem will not eliminate the possibility of terrorist acts by lingering opposition elements.
Attention to terrorism cannot be set aside, but to give it the highest priority is to risk losing the chance for greater security that should come through cooperation rather than confrontation with the Palestinians. It is Secretary Albright's challenge to restore that cooperation.