For a few days Israel seemed like a normal country. The main headlines were about criminal events, the picture of a nanny beating a pair of babies dominated the front pages, news bulletins opened with fatal road accidents. Until, last night, a painful reminder struck Israel - it is not like other countries. It is prone to brutal terrorist attacks that not only sow grief, pain and destruction and affect the national mood, but might also take it back to the bloody course in which the conflict with the Palestinians has been conducted in the past four and a half years.
There is no consolation in the knowledge that severe incidents, like the bombing that occurred outside Tel Aviv's Stage club, were expected and are bound to happen again in the near future. There is no relief in the understanding that evil-wishers are lying in ambush for the cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians and doing everything to sabotage it. What matters is the experience and its effect on people's state of mind. The Israeli public could perceive last night's suicide bombing as proof of the already existing suspicion that the Palestinian interlocutor is not a reliable partner to an agreement and that even painful concessions, from the official Israeli point of view - like withdrawal from the whole of the Gaza Strip and from part of the West Bank - have not persuaded the Palestinians to lay down their arms.
Without reducing the severity of the attack, one should remember, all the same, that the Palestinian response to it is different than in the past. The terrorist organizations washed their hands of it, and Jerusalem tended yesterday to believe them (although the inquiry into the circumstances of the incident is not complete). The statements issued by Abu Mazen's bureau, that the attack was directed against the effort to calm the conflict, shows good powers of observation, but must be followed up with practical conclusions.
Yesterday it appeared that the Israeli government would not stop the disengagement plan because of the suicide bombing. There is also no intention of launching a military retaliation. However, diplomatic moves are expected, like a delay in handing over the cities to the Palestinian Authority, reinstating the roadblocks and canceling the goodwill gestures that Israel announced it would carry out last week.
According to the Israeli interpretation of the understandings that were reached during the Sharm el-Sheikh conference, Abu Mazen was given a few weeks to establish his government and enforce his authority over the terror organizations. This period has not ended yet, but it is getting shorter. The Palestinian leader must prove he is capable of taking control of all the armed forces running rampant in the PA. This is not only an Israeli demand. The United States and Europe expect it as well, as will transpire in the London Conference on Tuesday. The prime minister's aides believe the attack will make things difficult for the Palestinian delegation at the conference.
Israel's demand of Abu Mazen is justified - the measures he has taken so far to reduce the threats to Israel's security and to strengthen his leadership in the PA are impressive, but he must remember that the Israeli restraint has limitations. If, God forbid, last night's bombing had killed 20 people, the Israeli reaction would have been completely different and the conflict would have taken a violent turn.
Israel must also learn a lesson. Abu Mazen deserves further credit and a great deal of patience. Moreover, despite Israel's declarations that it has stopped the Israel Defense Forces' preemptive activity in the territories, IDF troops are continuing to carry out arrests and occasionally open fire at Palestinians and cause casualties, although these acts do not fall into the category of "neutralizing ticking bombs." Since there are quite a few bodies striving to inflame the conflict again, both sides' leaderships must do everything to stop them.
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