The massive suicide bomb that tore through a Jerusalem bus Tuesday killing at least 20 people (including seven children) returning from the Western Wall is being seen as a turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
While the government of Israel weighed its response and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas promised to bring those responsible to justice, there were calls for immediate action to forever end the terror attacks.
"There’s no choice now but to use an iron punch," said Industry and Trade Minister Ehud Olmert, reflecting much of the anger of Israelis who feel betrayed by the hudna, or temporary truce that has been in place for almost two months. If the Palestinians don’t put an end to the terror, Israel and the U.S. "need to rethink all of our moves," he said. "Because one thing is clear: it can’t continue like this. We’ve reached the moment of truth."
The United States urged the Palestinian Authority to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, something Israel has repeatedly demanded. But Colette Avital, a Knesset member from the Labor Party, said she does not believe the Palestinian Authority has either "the will or the capability" to do that.
"The question is, can they be helped," she said. "Maybe there should be an international force [to help]. It wouldnít be the first time in history that was done."
Steven Spiegel, a national scholar of the Israel Policy Forum, said such a force "may be necessary with the cooperation and approval of the Israelis." He said the troops would help the Palestinian Authority "control Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and terminate their ability to act militarily."
Both of those groups rushed to take responsibility for Tuesday’s bus bombing, which wounded more than 100, including more than 40 children. The youngest of the 20 killed was a 1-year-old.
Said to be the most powerful bus explosion since Palestinian terror campaign was launched three years ago, it was carried out by a 29-year-old Palestinian father of two from Hebron. Among the dead were Goldie Taubenfeld, 43, of New Square, N.Y., and her 6-month-old son; her teenage daughter survived the attack. Taubenfeld, the mother of 13, was visiting Israel with her family. (See box.)
‘Entity Of Terror’
Benny Elon, the Israeli minister of tourism, rejected the suggestion of international troops, saying it would be "very risky" and noting that it would mean a possible role for the United Nations, which has been consistently critical of Israel.
"My conclusion is that the Palestinian Authority is an entity of terror," he said. "We cannot work with it anymore; it’s a bunch of terrorists."
Yuval Steinitz of the Likud Party and chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee agreed that it is time to "put an end to the Palestinian Authority and expel [Palestinian President Yasir] Arafat and all of the others to Tunisia…The most important thing is not to just destroy the terrorist infrastructure but the terrorist-supporting regime."
"Those who violate written agreements cannot survive in power," he added. "All attempts to ask them to change are almost useless. I seek peace. I don’t belong to the rightwing of the Likud, I came to it from the Peace Now movement. I agree with the prime minister in his willingness to make painful concessions (including territorial) for peace. I want to deliver all of Gaza and most of the West Bank to [the Palestinians], but not under the current Palestinian Authority and only after Israel redevelops its deterrent ability."
Steinitz said also that once the current Palestinian leadership is expelled, the U.S. should supervise new Palestinian elections within the next six to 12 months.
A day after the bus bombing, Israel Radio reported that the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had decided against expelling Arafat.
Mohammad Dahlan, the Palestinian Authority’s security chief, had pledged to crackdown on terrorists if Hamas and Islamic Jihad violated their cease-fire. Now is the time for Dahlan to fulfill that pledge, said David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"There were those who thought that the way to preserve the peace process was to avoid the tough issue of dealing with the rejectionists," he said. "But what should be increasingly evident to all after this horrific terrorist attack is that it is precisely avoiding the issue of the rejectionists that is triggering the collapse of the peace process. … Clearly some action must be taken now. Dahlan has 20,000 people under his control. I think Israel will seek to enlist Washington to hold Dahlan to his commitment."
Spiegel pointed out that the bus bombing came at a time when Israel was on the verge of pulling troops out of four West Bank Palestinian cities and handing over police responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority.
"Negotiations were making progress and Israel was making very positive and flexible proposals (one could say very dramatic ones) and it just shows that there is no way [the terror groups] will reform," he said. "Their military operations have to be terminated; they obviously are not willing to do it themselves."
After the bus bombing, spokesmen for Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they would continue the cease-fire they proclaimed June 29 but would respond each time Israel acted against its members. Israel has arrested scores of those it says were part of the terrorist network and last week an Islamic Jihad leader in Hebron, Mohammed Sidr, was killed during an attempt to arrest him. The bus bomber was said to have been his friend.
‘Murder Of Children’
The bus bombing, one of the deadliest terror attacks in three years of violence, came at a time when many Israelis had returned to beaches and were breathing a little easier following the terror groups’ self-proclaimed cease-fire. It was all the more horrific because of the large number of children who were killed and injured. The banner headline in the daily Maariv newspaper read, "Murder of Children." And its rival Yediot Achronot carried the headline, "Terror Returns to Jerusalem."
One of those who raced to the scene of the attack after the explosion was Abe Greenhouse, 25, a student at Rutgers University, who said he had been in Israel for the last month as part of the International Solidarity Movement, which is dedicated to ending Israel’s occupation of the territories. He said he was "quite horrified" by the carnage and that it reinforced his belief that the "essential first step to a just and lasting peace is an end to the [Israeli] occupation: that is the only thing that will make Israelis and Palestinians safer."
Although it was shocking in its scope, Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University, said the bus attack was "entirely predictable." He said the road map to peace that was formulated by the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union was "never properly executed and was a mistake from the beginning."
He said those calling for international troops or the expulsion of the Palestinian Authority leaders are "marginal voices."
"You are not going to see thousands of troops patrolling the casba of Jenin and being a target [for terrorists]," he said. "That shows how far people are from reality. And although it’s true that the lines between Arafat and Hamas are blurry and that it is a fiction to differentiate between them, there would not be any change even if [Arafat and his associates] left. Arafat has loyalists here and he would conduct operations from the sidelines."
Steinberg said he does not foresee a new Palestinian leadership emerging in six months or a year and that the concept of a Palestinian state by 2005 "is just nonsense." The answer for the time being, he added, is the separation barrier that Israel is erecting to keep unauthorized Palestinians out of Israel and many of its West Bank settlements.
Dore Gold, a senior adviser to Sharon, said the "importance of the separation fence has grown [since the bus attack] because you obviously cannot rely on Palestinian counter-terrorism to alleviate the threat against Israel." He said that after "having sacrificed so many lives in the honest pursuit of peace, Israel has every right in the world to put up a fence where it wants to." Gold said the government will not "risk its population just to prove yet again that it is willing to implement a road map that the Palestinians fail to take seriously."
He added that the prospect of bringing in international troops "is hardly a panacea, they are an invitation to disaster."
"As a former UN ambassador, I can tell you that international forces are a can of worms," he said, citing their failure in Rawanda, Bosnia and Somalia.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said it is now time Abbas either declares war against Palestinian terrorist groups or declares the road map dead.
Rep. Anthony Wiener (D-Brooklyn) told The Jewish Week by phone from Jerusalem just hours after the bombing that as far as he is concerned "the road map is dead. … I don’t see any sign that it is alive from the perspective of the Palestinians."
Weiner, part of a congressional solidarity mission to Israel, said he could not imagine Israel pursuing the peace path "with so much blood in the streets."
The congressional group was slated to meet with Abbas on Thursday but Wiener questioned its usefulness in light of the bus attack.
"To be honest with you, the intention of the meeting was to express the position of our government that we are dissatisfied with his inability to rein in terrorists," he said. "It seems almost pointless now. Its seems he is on the way to being relegated to the dust bin of history, having missed another opportunity to secure peace for his people."