For Our Children's Children?

Article excerpt

Award-winning israeli novelist David Grossman made an eloquent plea for peace as Israel reeled from the series of Hamas bomb outrages which claimed 58 lives - most of them Israeli - in an unprecedented eight days of violence which began on 25 February and sharply called into question the continuation of the Oslo accord. Grossman's sober message was that we should not expect the accord to yield peace and security now, or even in the next ten years: peace would be for his children and their children.

But how many Israelis can wait that long? How can they accept that more lives should be lost in the present 'peace' than were lost before it? Israelis believed that they were giving up the West Bank and Gaza in return for the security which eluded them in the long years of hostility, occupation and intifada. Having recovered from the shock of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination by a Jewish extremist, the nation came closer than it has ever done to a unified commitment to peace as envisaged by the Oslo accords. Abruptly, overnight, the nation called for war on Hamas.

It is not that simple, as Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat, locked in a shared fight for their respective political lives, know only too well. One of the lessons was the apparent ease with which the suicide bombers carried out their terrifying deeds. But to attempt to take out Hamas root and branch is to subject the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza, the majority of which does not support the Islamists' bomb attacks, to further hardship. If Oslo was already failing to meet Palestinian aspirations, closures which amount to large-scale imprisonment, unemployment and a blockade on the export and import of goods, above all food, can only increase the Palestinians' sense of grievance.

Is the solution for Israelis a separation of geographical areas and peoples? A huge and costly fence complete with watchtowers and electronic surveillance perhaps even a 'Berlin wall' plunging through the heart of Jerusalem, ending Israel's ill-conceived dream of seeing the city as its eternal, indivisible capital? The government of Shimon Peres has to act, and be seen to act. Forcefully, speedily. But can Yasser Arafat, his partner in peace, now in torment, follow suit?

So far his Palestinian police have matched Israel's arrests of Islamists in areas still under its control by a similar campaign in the self-rule areas, Arafat has outlawed the armed wings of all the political factions. He has called into play shared intelligence with the Israelis and a strong police apparatus, many of whose recruits received their training during the years of the Palestinian intifada. The State Security Court (under his direct control) has resumed its labours, notably with a life sentence summarily passed on Mohammed Abu Wardeh, who recruited three of the suicide bombers, responsible for the double attack on the number 18 bus in Jerusalem and the Ashkelon bomb.

Arafat also took a pro-active diplomatic move by calling for the Middle East summit on terrorism. And he has presided over the first meeting of the newly elected Palestinian Council, which has opened the way for the convening of the old Palestine National Council (PNC) in order to remove from the now defunct Covenant articles incompatible with the progress to peace.

Beyond this, he has entered into dangerous ground. His Authority has raided the Islamic University in Gaza and over a dozen mosques, as well as kindergartens and welfare organisations which form the basis of Hamas' civic infrastructure. The PA has also started to round up Hamas political figures. It has done this before, notably during the spring and summer of 1995. Both then and now this has included Hamas' chief spokesman in Gaza, Dr Mahrnoud az-Zahhar. …