- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Israel’s withdrawal from Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza on Tuesday spoiled the efforts of terrorists this week to derail peace efforts in the region. It was a singularly brilliant and courageous move to halt the downward spiral of violence at a time when those opposed to peace are attempting to speed its decline: Terrorists wanted retaliation; Israel gave them nothing of the sort.

It is no coincidence that suicide bombings are on the increase in the days following the release of the road map. Terrorists, like so many others in the region, see its potential for success and want it destroyed before it renders them obsolete — or worse.

The plan is likely the last chance for durable peace in the Mideast, and leaders in both Israel and the West Bank are ready to move toward a solution and away from the policies of the past. Though neither Israelis nor Palestinians are completely satisfied with the plan to end the crisis, both appear willing to try. Yet, after five bombings in three days, including two on Monday, it becomes clear that the road map is a threat to a third side in the crisis: terrorists, and those who harbor and sponsor them.

The Israeli government, with some reservation, is willing to move forward on the road map to peace. And new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is eager to find a way out of the crisis that has killed so many of his people. The two leaders, in fact, met over the weekend, the first such summit in three years. Yet, as so many times before, when peace was in reach, terrorists set about dismantling hope.

To abandon the plan now would only serve to strengthen the hand of Hamas and like-minded groups throughout the region — including nations such as Iran and Syria, which benefit politically from the unrest in the West Bank and fund the continuation of the conflict there, to prevent a similar one at home.

The bombings in Afula and Kfar Darom on Monday, and the Gaza, Jerusalem and West Bank bombings over the weekend, were part of an organized effort to derail a peace process that, unlike so many others before, had a chance of succeeding — something the terrorist groups in the region, which want little more than genocide, could stomach. They know that the peace plan is not just the “only game in town,” as Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said recently, but it is also likely to be the last. It is in their best interest for the terror to continue and the road map to fail.

The attacks bolster the terrorists by strengthening the hands of those within both governments who are unwilling to compromise. Yasser Arafat, who mere weeks ago saw his own power diminished with the ascension of Abu Mazen as prime minister and the confirmation of a new cabinet, now has the whip hand in the West Bank.

Mr. Arafat claimed on Monday that he still has an active leadership role. This statement prompted Raanan Gissin, senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, to call for removing Mr. Arafat altogether. The Palestinian leader, he said, was “leading his people down the drain,” and “neutralizing Arafat is something that has to be taken into consideration and given lots of thought.” Such rhetoric, in turn, emboldens those opposed to the new Palestinian leadership that seeks to work with Israelis.

This spiral is exactly what the terrorists want. They revel in the Catch-22 created when Israel says it won’t pull back from the territories until the terror stops completely, and when the Palestinians say they won’t stop the terrorists until the Israelis pull back. As National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said in a recent interview, “there’s a very strong tendency in the Middle East for every party to look at what the other party is not doing and to say ‘if only he would do that, then I could do this.’ Not acceptable.”

Ending the cycle will require courage from both parties: courage to pull back and resist the urge to respond with overwhelming force to every terrorist attack by Palestinians; and courage for the Palestinian Authority (PA) to take on the terrorists. And it will require faith that the PA will keep its word, crack down on terror and reform their government from the inside out.

President Bush was right when he said on Monday, “we’re still on the road to peace, it’s just going to be a bumpy road.” Israelis and Palestinians would do well to stay on that road, despite the barriers erected by a handful of terrorists and terrorist states; it is the only way out. Giving up on the road map now will only further the aims of the terrorists, and make a bumpy road impassable.

Robert Stewart is a former Army intelligence analyst. E-mail: [email protected]

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