Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

The daily round of terrorist attacks has returned more quickly than the doomsters predicted, reflecting an escalation that shows the achievements of Operation Defensive Shield are completely barren.

It is by now perfectly clear: The daily round of terrorist attacks has returned more quickly than the doomsters predicted. A booby-trapped tanker at the Pi Glilot fuel depot, a hundred kilograms of explosives at the gates of the settlement of Dugit in the Gaza Strip, together with daily suicide-bomber attacks in the cities, reflect an escalation that shows the achievements of Operation Defensive Shield are completely barren.

Just two weeks after the end of the operation, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer is promising a "wave of suicide bombers," and in Israel people talk with near equanimity about a "routine of terrorism." No one is asking the relevant questions: Why did we launch the operation if at its end we find ourselves in the same place we were at its start? And what might be done differently?

Israel continues to view the terrorist attacks as some sort of natural disaster against which nothing can be done, other than striking back with more and more assaults and more and more fortification and armoring projects, which are of limited effectiveness. What's past is prologue: another couple of terrorist attacks and Israel will launch Operation Defensive Shield 2, and this time in the Gaza Strip, from where not one suicide bomber has succeeded in entering Israel. After that we can probably look forward to a third operation, more extensive than its predecessors. The vicious circle of terrorism-military operation-terrorism will thus never be broken.

Incredibly, the public discussion in the past week or so is ignoring this situation completely. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is chalking up one public relations victory after another by means of marginal moves - from a "loss" that was translated into a "victory" over his arch-rival, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to a display of "leadership ability" in the wake of a short-term maneuver at the expense of the ultra-Orthodox parties. The way things are going, he is threatening to rise to the all-time peak of his popularity, despite all his failures.

The leaders of the Labor Party are competing with one another in floating "policy plans," though none of them is lifting a finger in order to implement them. It's as though the people involved are not senior cabinet ministers but a group of political consultants. Coalition parties come and go only because of concatenations of circumstances - Shinui, for example, refused to enter the government as long as the ultra-Orthodox parties were part of the coalition - and the hell with everyone else.

An almost universal conceptual fixation combined with a bizarre passivity, uniformity of opinion and an unwillingness to listen to the views of others, paralyzes every attempt to search for new and untried solutions.

It is difficult to believe that the Israelis, who are renowned for their resourcefulness and ability to improvise, their initiative and creativity, are stunned into inaction in the face of the greatest threat ever posed to their routine way of life. The use of force has been completely exhausted - Israel will not be able to increase significantly the scale of the force it has already utilized - and nothing has been accomplished, yet no one asks, in the face of the terrorism that is constantly intensifying its murderous methods, whether the entire course of action is not fundamentally flawed.

There is no magic cure for terrorism, and nothing will bring about its instant cessation. However, there are measures that spur it and others that can weaken it. Israel's current policy is bringing about the exacerbation of terrorism and is not giving the Palestinians much reason to put a stop to it.

The Palestinians bear primary responsibility for the terrorism, but Israel is not doing what it should in order to bring about its termination. It is unfortunate but true that the majority of Israelis do not have the slightest idea about the new conditions of life in the territories. Israel is tightening the siege and is not offering the unemployed, desperate residents of the territories even a single ray of hope.

The prime minister's declaration that no settlement will ever be dismantled has heightened the motivation for terrorism, as have the liquidations, which are once more being implemented with full force. The ease with which killing occurs at the army checkpoints, the mass arrests, the ongoing humiliation of the population and, of course, the economic situation all play a part.

No military operation will ever neutralize that explosive situation. The alternative has never been tried, not even by former prime minister Ehud Barak, who "offered them everything." That alternative consists of the immediate and unconditional evacuation of a few settlements as a message of good intentions to the Palestinians (and to Israel, for which the settlements are a heavy burden), an explicit commitment to evacuate all of them when a peace treaty is signed, the lifting of the stifling siege, which in any case does not stop the suicide bombers, and the release of prisoners to which Israel committed itself.

Those moves could bring about an immediate change in the atmosphere. Only after that will it be possible to talk about a joint campaign to do battle against terrorism. These ideas are rarely if ever discussed in Israel, where most of the public expresses support, in the polls, for the dismantlement of some of the settlements and for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

So, why not start now? Why wait? Do we need more bloodshed? Instead, though, the defense establishment is already planning the next operation, which will be Israel's only response to the next terrorist attack, in the wake of which will come another terrorist attack, which will be more severe than its predecessors.