- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 22, 2006

The day after I visited my niece in Tel Aviv, a young man named Sami Hamad blew himself up at a restaurant there. I had no particular reason to think my niece was anywhere near Mayor’s Falafel at 1:30 p.m., but I called her anyway, just to make sure. She was on her way to a concert in Jerusalem.

Other calls that day resulted not in reassurance but in concern escalating to panic and culminating in grief. Hamad, who was from the West Bank village of al-Harakah, killed nine people working in the restaurant, waiting in line for falafel or shwarma, or passing by when he detonated his bomb, including a 47-year-old security guard who stopped him at the entrance, a 29-year-old from Holon whose wife was about to give birth to their third child and two foreign workers from Romania. The bomb injured about 70 people, including two children, a 60-year-old French tourist and a 16-year-old American, who was critically wounded.

A spokesman for Hamas, the party that controls the Palestinian legislature and Cabinet after January’s elections, blamed the attack on “the Israeli occupation,” saying, “Our people… have every right to use all means to defend themselves.” The Hamas-run Interior Ministry called the bombing “a direct result of the policy of the occupation and the brutal aggression and siege committed against our people.”

The “occupation” to which Hamas refers is not the one after the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza (which it left last year). Hamas is talking about the “occupation” that resulted from establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

The position of the Palestinian Authority, created by negotiations aimed at achieving a lasting settlement between Israelis and Palestinians, is clear: All Israel must do to stop the terrorist attacks — excuse me, the perfectly legitimate acts of self-defense — is cease to exist.

Not a lot of room for negotiation there. But what of the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, left over from the Fatah-led government Hamas defeated in January? “These kinds of attacks harm the Palestinian interest, and we as an authority and government must move to stop it,” he said. “We will not stop pursuing anyone who carries out such attacks.”

I believe him. You can’t stop what you haven’t started. And even when Fatah was in charge the Palestinian Authority showed little enthusiasm for cracking down on terrorism. Now that the terrorists themselves run the show, the Palestinian leadership is experiencing what the New York Times calls “tension:” Mr. Abbas wants to pursue terrorists, and Hamas wants to pursue terrorism.

Since words are all Mr. Abbas has to offer, it would have been nice to hear something about how murdering people at random is, you know, wrong, not just imprudent. But since the Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade not only praised the bombing but (according to Reuters) tried to take credit for it, I guess Mr. Abbas is going out on a limb even by suggesting it was not a smart move.

With Fatah terrorists and Islamic Jihad (the group that sent Hamad to Tel Aviv) continuing their attacks, perhaps it’s Hamas, which has not carried out any in the last year, that counts as moderate these days. Many in Fatah think their route back to power is paved with body parts.

Though this situation seems untenable, it can continue indefinitely. The terrorists can cause Israel pain, but (unlike, say, a nuclear-armed Iran) they do not pose an existential threat. The Israeli government can continue its program of unilateral separation, which has wide popular support, and maybe someday Hamas, like Fatah before it, will pronounce itself ready for negotiations. Given how that scenario worked out the first time around, maybe it doesn’t really matter.

Jacob Sullum is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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