Netanyahu Can't Let Itamar Massacre Dictate His Actions

Itamar attack proved once again that intelligence information furnished by the Shin Bet's efficient regional security chief R. and by the most experienced, skilled IDF officers doesn't provide a foolproof ability to thwart terror attacks.

The terror attack against the family at Itamar was a massacre, both in terms of planning and execution. The Americans, after all, call the killing of five people in a clash with British soldiers in 1770 the "Boston Massacre." Not one of those five dead was a minor, an infant killed in its cradle.

In response to such events, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tends to use force while ignoring the political context. According to his simplistic approach, there is always a need to respond quickly and strongly. In emotional terms, the temptation to behave this way is particularly strong today, the day of the funerals of the family members from Itamar. Today would also be the 65th birthday of Netanyahu's brother Yoni, who was killed in a commando operation against terror. The question, however, is what should such a response be against, and what would be its purpose. And what will happen when the satisfaction gained by punishing murderers fades?

Just as was the case a minute before the massacre, Netanyahu will be forced to respond to the key question a day, week and month after the terror attack - where the diplomatic process is headed. The prime minister has not said anything about when, where, how and at what level of intensity the process will unfold. But he can't retreat from his willingness to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state, which he has expressed in principle.

Of course, this is true only if Netanyahu understands the meaning of what he declares. In one of his Knesset speeches about Palestinian responsibility for the diplomatic impasse, Netanyahu announced that he had already crossed the Rubicon, and he called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to do the same. MK Roni Bar-On (Kadima), shrewd as ever and sharp-tongued in Netanyahu's presence, called out to the prime minister during the speech: If Abbas crosses the Rubicon, it will be in the opposite direction, and once again you'll manage to avoid meeting with him.

Netanyahu cannot sever the link between issues of local security (for instance, around Itamar ), security of the state and its agreed-on borders, and peace. Settlements can't defend themselves alone. They help perpetuate hostility. Nor will the dispute vanish if the settlements are removed, unless mutual efforts are made to bring the violence to an end.

The Itamar attack proved once again that intelligence information furnished by the Shin Bet's efficient regional security chief R. and by the most experienced, skilled IDF officers (including Brig. Gen. Nitzal Alon of the Sayeret Matkal commando unit ) doesn't provide a foolproof ability to thwart terror attacks. Intelligence officers come and go, but hundreds of settlements and outposts like Itamar remain on the ground, stuck down the Palestinians' throats.

The only way to attain peace and security is to remove all the settlements, including the "blocs." Until that point, and even more so after a state is established beyond our borders, Israel must work with the Palestinian Authority's security apparatus, which takes orders from Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad. The PA's motivation to implement Abbas' orders for security cooperation should be calibrated with the character and terms of the diplomatic process - the more promising the peace, the more motivated the PA should be to cooperate on security matters.

Netanyahu's trap goes beyond questions of security vulnerability raised by the Itamar massacre. Netanyahu needs media or political achievements; for example, the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit. A week ago, he told journalists that the dispute with Hamas in bargaining for Shalit's release has boiled down to the question of where certain mega-terrorists would be released.

According to this version, there is no longer a disagreement about the numbers of terrorists to be released, nor is there a dispute about the sort of terrorists who will be freed. The only question is geography. Israel demands that the released prisoners be deported far from the West Bank, lest they return and organize attacks and rebellious acts against Abbas and Fayyad. Hamas demands that the prisoners be allowed to go back home.

To win government and then public support for a deal to release Shalit, Netanyahu needs the Shin Bet to announce that it is not concerned about the risk posed by releasing security prisoners into the West Bank. Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin has refused to give the prime minister such confirmation. In interviews with candidates to succeed Diskin in another two months and two days, Netanyahu would be happy to hear hints of such a readiness. But hopefully a prospective Shin Bet head would not betray his professional responsibility and give a stamp of approval to a decision that might instigate more attacks like the Itamar massacre on both sides of the Green Line.