A Bomb's Echoes

Sunday's twin bomb attacks on civilians in Israel were as despicable as any in the past. With 23 people killed, it was the second-highest toll of any Palestinian attack since the latest wave of suicide bombings that began more than two years ago.

But this time, there was a difference: The attacks at a Tel Aviv bus station have clearly hurt Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority in several serious ways.

For one, Mr. Arafat was counting on a conference in London next week to showcase reforms within his government, particularly in how it handles foreign aid. He had hoped the event would lead to more money pouring in. Instead, Israel will now bar Palestinian leaders from attending. And the Palestinian Authority felt compelled after the bombings to condemn "these terrorist attacks," even as it pleaded for more foreign assistance.

Also possibly ruined was a meeting this week in Cairo, sponsored by Egypt, at which Arafat's Fatah movement hoped to persuade Hamas, the militant Islamic organization, to accept a cease-fire within Israel proper. Such a step could enhance Arafat's authority, and put pressure on Islamic Jihad to confine its bomb targets to only the Israeli military and Jewish settlers on the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. A six-week lull in suicide bombings may have been due in part to the diplomacy before the Cairo meeting.

A third political casualty for Arafat will likely be a greater victory for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Israel's general election on Jan. 28. Even more Israelis will rally behind his hard-line policies - which include a desire to expel Arafat into exile - over those of the dovish Labor party.

Arafat's struggle to establish a Palestinian state may have suffered its severest blow in this latest attack. His ability and will to end the bombings are even more seriously in doubt.

Israel, too, has, it's hoped, learned that many of its current antiterrorist policies aren't working. It must take steps to remove the illegal settlements and accept the US "road map" to peace.

Most Israelis and Palestinians are ready for a two-state solution. Getting there will require creative and courageous steps by their leaders.

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