Israelis were filled with anger, frustration and pessimism this week following two suicide bombings five hours apart Tuesday, one in the heart of Jerusalem and the other near Tel Aviv, that killed at least 15 and wounded dozens. And few were optimistic that the new Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, would do any more to stop the violence than his predecessor, who quit in despair last weekend.
“Clearly, there is a sense of futility among many,” said Uzi Arad, director of the Institute of Policy and Strategy and former director of intelligence for the Mossad.
Zalman Shoval, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former ambassador to the U.S., said simply: “The gut feeling of people in the street is to bomb them [Palestinian terrorists] to hell.”
But Yossi Beilin, the former justice minister and now a member of the left-wing Meretz Party, said Israel’s response — dropping a bomb Wednesday on the home of a leading Hamas terrorist that wounded him and killed his son and bodyguard — is not the appropriate answer.
image2goeshere “They are the worst people around, but assassinating them everyday will not put them out of existence,” he insisted. “They are not a Mafia with 15 or 20 heads. This is a movement that is more and more popular and if you assassinate one, another will replace him. It is endless, and as a result of the assassinations, the death toll in Israel is higher and higher. This should be clear to those who carry out this policy.”
Gideon Meir, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said here this week that it is up to Qureia and the rest of the Palestinian leadership to decide whether the Israeli attacks continue.
“He will be judged by deeds, not by his words,” he said. “As long as the Palestinians are not fighting Hamas, peace will not prevail. The ball is totally in the Palestinians’ court. It is their turn to implement their part of the road map [for peace].”
Until that is done and the Palestinian Authority begins to disarm Palestinian terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure, Meir said Israel would “continue doing what we are doing right now — waging an all out war against Hamas … in order to defend the Israeli people and in order to promote peace.”
Since the Jerusalem bus bombing Aug. 12 that killed 22 and wounded more than 130, 14 Hamas leaders have been killed by Israeli forces, several have been wounded and others, including the Hamas founder and spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, escaped with only a scratch.
Road Map In Peril?
These developments leave open to question the future of the international road map for peace, which the Bush administration has been pushing as the best hope for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“There’s very little the administration can do right now,” said Edward Walker, president of the Middle East Institute and a former U.S. ambassador to Israel. “They won’t get behind Ahmed Qureia unless there is some daylight between him and Yasir Arafat, but I don’t see that happening.”
In fact, when Qureia, the former speaker of the Palestinian parliament, accepted Arafat’s request that he replace Abu Mazen, he made no mention of complying with the road map. His comments were directed solely on what he expected Israel and the United States to do.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said such remarks are a “clear indication that he is not serious about taking the steps the Palestinian Authority has to take in accordance with the road map.”
Rashid Khalidi, director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University, said Qureia would never launch attacks against terrorists that would precipitate a Palestinian civil war. He noted that Qureia has said he would like to arrange a cease-fire with both Palestinians and Israelis participating, but he said he doesn’t expect that to happen.
“I would love to see the Palestinians say these are our objectives and then isolate those who don’t want a two-state solution and a viable, contiguous Palestinian state,” he said. “At that point they could force the Israelis and the U.S. to be serious.”
But Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said he does not believe Qureia will do any such thing because he is wedded to Arafat and terrorism. And he pointed out that Qureia has refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“We are lobbying on the Hill that Bush should not accept yet another puppet of Arafat,” Klein said.
Qureia, 65, was a leading negotiator of the Palestinian Authority during which time he developed a close relationship with several Israeli leaders, including Uri Savir. Savir said Qureia is the “only man” after Mazen who is able to forge peace with Israel but said Qureia has “always believed in parallel progress on the security front and the political front.”
Kadoura Fares, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, praised Qureia’s administrative skills and said he believes he has learned from Mazen’s failure and will not make the same mistakes.
Another Palestinian legislator, Hanan Ashwari, said no change will occur without new elections to elect a new leadership.
“All of the old guard is holding on and isn’t giving a chance to the younger generation to emerge,” she complained.
On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. looked forward to working work with Qureia “particularly if he is empowered, if he has control of the resources to deal with the security situation and make real progress on the road map.”
Qureia’s Loyalty To Arafat
Unofficially, many administration officials believe none of that is likely to happen since Arafat has retained his grip on Palestinian affairs by nudging Mazen out in what some have called a bloodless coup.
Walker said he feared that Qureia won’t make a move without Arafat’s blessing, something the Bush administration had worked against.
Daniel Pipes, the pro-Israel head of the Middle East Forum, said the administration should rethink its “assumption that the Palestinians have accepted Israel’s existence. There is much evidence over the decades that they have not.”
Pipes, recently appointed by the President to the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace, said that in meetings with administration this summer he was “impressed that they were not wedded” to the road map.
“Now with the road map all but dead, there is at least openness to reassessment that I find encouraging,” he said.
Henry Siegman, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, warned that for the Bush administration to now disengage from the effort to bring peace to Israelis and Palestinians would only inflame the situation.
“Theoretically, there are options for rescuing the road map,” he said. “But with the constraints this administration has placed on its actions in the Middle East, there are no policy options.”
Siegman said he was not optimistic about Qureia’s chances to achieve peace, noting that if Mazen, who challenged Arafat, was unable to succeed, Qureia, who has no intention of challenging him, will also fail.
Political factors also doom the road map, Siegman said, because the Bush administration has no intention of angering pro-Israel voters and campaign donors by pressing Israel to live up to its obligations under the road map. And Walker said that instead of diplomacy, he foresees tacit U.S. approval of an intensified Israeli military campaign against terrorist leaders — an action he applauds.
“I think Israel is right in coming to the concept of attacking the people who are actually attacking them,” he said.
Richard Murphy, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former U.S. ambassador to Syria, said a “vengeance cycle” of attacks has been started and neither side will stop for fear of being seen as too weak by the other.
“What is surprising me is that Sharon is still being looked to by Israelis as the best bet for Israeli security, and I don’t see that happening,” he said. “How many more bombs will it take to raise doubts about the present policy of Sharon’s? His support is apparently unaffected in the wake of one bombing after another; the public has closed ranks behind the government.”
With reporting from Israel correspondent Joshua Mitnick and Washington correspondent James D. Besser.