Posted on March 24, 1997 in Washington Watch

The suicide bombing in Tel Aviv is a condemnable act. It is unjustifiable on moral grounds. And it is politically stupid as well.

On what possible basis can one excuse the slaughter of three innocents whose only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?

To argue that this act was in response to the settlement being constructed at Jabal Abu Ghnaim is preposterous. Were those killed and wounded responsible for the settlement? Will their deaths and injuries now stop the construction?

Does one expect Israeli public opinion which was leaning against construction at Abu Ghnaim to now rise up and demand that Prime Minister Netanyahu quit bulldozing? Or does anyone actually believe that Netanyahu’s reaction to the bombing will be an admission that he was wrong and, as a result, announce a reversal of his government’s policy?

Since the answers to all of the above are a resounding “no”, it is incredible to Hear some analysts actually find grounds on which to explain the bombing as a justifiable response to Israeli policy.

At best the suicide bombing was an act of despair and anger. But despair and anger are a apolitical and destructive. Acts based on these emotions rather than on strategic thinking can lead to negative and devastating consequences.

For weeks now the government of Netanyahu has been under serious international pressure. Israel has been isolated, and even at odds with the U.S., its main patron. Conversely the Palestinian Authority has been progressively growing in international stature Despite the absence of any significant leverage, the Palestinian Authority has been able to mobilize substantial international pressure and develop a more or less unified Arab stand against Israeli policies.

The bombing in Tel Aviv threatens to erase some of these political gains. For a while at least, Netanyahu will gain some international sympathy. And Arafat will be put in a defensive posture. Israeli public opinion which had been deeply divided over the construction of the settlement, will once again be prey to emotional anti-Palestinian insecurities.

In all of this, the real campaign of the young Palestinian demonstrators in Bethlehem and Hebron and the courageous stand of Faisal Husseini and his non-violent protests in Jerusalem will be overlooked. They, if anyone, were the real heroes in the battle for the Holy City.

To make matters worse, Netanyahu can now return to playing a media role in which he feels quite comfortable. He will be transformed from the arrogant anti-peace bully to the outraged defender of a people victimized by terror.

Next to those who have died, it is, of course, the Palestinian people who will pay the greatest price. The Israeli government has once again intensified closure and the resulting depravation of economic, social, and medical services will take a huge toll on an already beleaguered society. How many will die? How many will suffer?

Netanyahu has been strangling the peace process since his election. The bomber has given him the justification to now finish the job.

Like the Jordanian soldier, who in another act cost for his government its claim to the moral high-ground, the bomber in Tel Aviv and those who sent him on his way, have dramatically transformed an already bad situation and made it worse.

These acts have played into the hands of Netanyahu and his far-right coalition’s efforts to discredit not only the Palestinian leadership but the very idea of peace with the Palestinian people.

Netanyahu has built his entire career on acts such as these. They are what helped him into international prominence in the 1970’s and then elected him as Prime Minister in the 1990’s.

He will, no doubt, use this bombing to further justify his agenda of radically transforming the peace process.

We can argue until we are blue in the face that such a terrorist bombing was “inevitable” or “expected” in the face of Israeli arrogance and violations of Palestinian rights. But was the act morally justifiable or politically wise? To these questions we can only give one answer.

In the end, other than the death of three Israelis, more insecurity in Israel, a stronger hand for the Netanyahu government, a more beleaguered Palestinian Authority and more pain and suffering for the entire Palestinian people—what else did the bombing accomplish?

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