- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2003

As the violence between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas escalates, it poses a growing danger to President Bush’s road map for Mideast peace. In the immediate term, Israel needs an end to terrorism, such as Wednesday’s afternoon rush-hour suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus carried out by Hamas, which killed at least 17 and wounded nearly 100. For their part, the Palestinians need an improvement in their living conditions: Greater freedom of movement — particularly the ability to cross from the West Bank and Gaza into Israel to reach their jobs and see their families — is essential. But, so long as Hamas and other terrorist groups continue to target Israel, such improvements won’t occur.

Ever since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas agreed to implement the road map at their summit with President Bush earlier this month, Hamas has condemned the American peace initiative and rebuffed Mr. Abbas’ efforts to negotiate a cease-fire agreement in which it would halt attacks against Israel. Last Sunday, Hamas, in conjunction with Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades, ambushed and killed four Israeli soldiers who were part of a military campaign to prevent Hamas from firing missiles from northern Gaza into the Israeli border town of Sderot. In response, Israel unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the Hamas leader it claims was involved in planning last Sunday’s attack.

The reality is that, for the road map to achieve Mr. Bush’s goal of creating an independent Palestinian state, Mr. Abbas must radically change his approach to Hamas: Until now, he has consistently ruled out using force against this group — even though its terrorism has arguably become the number one obstacle to creating an independent Palestinian state and a better life for the Palestinian people. If Mr. Abbas remains unalterably opposed to using force against the rejectionists, the road map will fail unless he is replaced with a leader who is prepared to act. If the problem is that Mr. Abbas lacks sufficient military force to do the job against Hamas, then it is incumbent upon Washington and its allies to provide him with the resources necessary for success. At the same time, European officials should stop undermining Mr. Abbas by meeting with Yasser Arafat — a failed leader who is doing his utmost to sabotage peace.

In response to Washington’s urging, and the reality that 67 percent of Israelis, according to a new poll, are having second thoughts about Israel’s policy of targeted assassinations of terrorist leaders, Mr. Sharon said yesterday that he is prepared to reverse his longstanding policy and limit strikes to terrorists considered to be “ticking bombs” (such as someone about to carry out a terrorist attack). This policy would take effect once Mr. Abbas brokers a cease-fire agreement. Mr. Sharon continues to show a willingness to make concessions for peace. These are correctly conditional on similar ones from the Arab side.

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