- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Another Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in central Tel Aviv Monday, killing nine people and wounding about 50 others. Samer Samih Hamad, the young Islamic Jihad activist — some would say terrorist — from the West Bank village of Arakeh, who blew himself up outside a crowded falafel bar in Tel Aviv, did more than kill and maim Israelis. His actions shattered an uneasy truce that existed between Israelis and Palestinians and dispelled a razor-thin hope that new leadership in the Palestinian Territories and in Israel would perhaps guide them out of the never-ending violence.

Monday’s attack was, sadly, not very different from scores of similar suicide bombings that have plagued the region over the years. It was another random act of violence killing innocent civilians while ensuring the cycle of violence remains unbroken. Last year a pizzeria in Jerusalem was targeted; this time victims were killed because they wanted to buy a falafel sandwich. Talk about random acts of madness.

While one suicide attack may not differ much from another — except for the victims of course, whose lives are shattered in an instant — there was one fundamental difference, besides the choice of target, in Monday’s attack on the Tel Aviv falafel bar. This attack has the sorry distinction of being the first on Hamas’ watch.

That is not to say all has been quiet since the Islamic Resistance Movement won the legislative elections, and its government, under the guidance of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, assumed leadership in the Palestinian Territories. In recent weeks, Palestinian militants have fired about 500 Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel, according to Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Israeli Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. And of course, Israel fired back using mortars and artillery on Palestinian positions, killing about 17 Palestinians, a Hamas spokesman said.

While suicide attacks had stopped for a while, Monday’s attack will ensure violence in Israel and the PA continues. In a video recorded by the bomber before he undertook his deadly mission, the 17-year-old Palestinian warned: “There are many other bombers on the way.”

Mr. Olmert, who lacks military experience, vowed revenge. “We will know how to respond,” he said just before going to the state opening of the recently elected Knesset. “We know what to do.”

While Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, Mr. Gissin, spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, blamed the atrocity on the new Palestinian leadership. “We are in the midst of a terrorist campaign against Israel,” he said. “You have a Hamas government that exonerates terrorism. It says in very clear terms that it will not stop those who attack Israeli citizens. We will pursue the terrorists wherever they are. We can’t rely on anyone else to do the job.”

Optimists who closely monitor the Middle East conflict had hoped that despite Hamas’ electoral victory, or perhaps one should say despite Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian territories, the Islamic Resistance Movement that suddenly found itself at the helm of power in the PA would want to get down to the serious business of running the affairs of state. Particularly in view of the large mess they inherited from the previous Fatah-led administration.

Here was the golden opportunity for Hamas to rise to the challenge. But did they? Hardly.

Instead of showing the world they could transform themselves from a resistance group into a bona fide government and accept the new role of administrators of a state struggling to make it work, Hamas’ leadership continued to play the revolutionary card.

Hamas and the Palestinian territories are already in dire financial straits because of funds withheld by the European Union and import taxes on the order of some $50 million per month withheld by Israel. This latest attack will only serve to make it that much harder for the Hamas government to convince donor nations to release badly needed funds.

When a revolutionary movement such as Hamas crosses the political threshold and goes from being a resistance movement to winning the trust of the people through democratic elections, with that trust comes the greater responsibility to shed its revolutionary mantle and assume the task of running affairs of the state.

This is not by any means an easy transformation. Undoubtedly, some members will find it difficult to adapt and may have to leave. Others will find it impossible to change. These difficulties are part of the natural growing process of any revolutionary movement.

Yasser Arafat, the longtime leader of the Palestinian resistance, failed to make that transition from revolutionary leader to statesman, and both he and the Palestinian people suffered greatly for it. Now Hamas is about to make the same monumental mistake.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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