Even by the grim standards of recent years, the suicide bombings in Tel Aviv last week were horrific.
The terrorists, members of the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade (a wing of Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization), positioned themselves at opposite ends of a busy street and blew themselves up 30 seconds apart. That was to guarantee the maximum number of casualties -- as terrified pedestrians fled the first explosion, many ran directly toward the bomber waiting to set off the second. The attack murdered 22 civilians and wounded more than 100, many of whom will be maimed for life: The bombs were packed with nails and metal shards so that shrapnel would shred skin and muscle, leaving survivors with agonizing internal injuries or grotesquely disfigured.
It was the third worst terror attack in Israel in the past quarter-century, and the Palestinian Authority's initial reaction was to arrest the Al Jazeera correspondent who first reported that Fatah was involved. Then Arafat's spokesman issued a statement in English expressing "total condemnation of these terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians."
To Arafat and the Palestinian leadership, the borders of the "occupation" are not those of Gaza or the West Bank. They are the borders of Israel.
But at about the same time, the Fatah web site posted another statement -- in Arabic -- celebrating the attacks:
"With faith in the calling of holy jihad," it said, "two suicide attackers . . . succeeded this evening to infiltrate the Zionist roadblocks and to enter the heart of . . . Tel Aviv and carried out two consecutive suicide attacks… These suicide attacks caused a large number of fatalities and casualties in the center of the Zionist occupation of our land. We swear before our people that additional suicide operations will occur."
Note the description of Tel Aviv, a city founded by Jews in 1909 and laid out on the empty sand dunes north of Jaffa: "the center of the Zionist occupation." To Fatah -- which is to say, to Arafat and the Palestinian leadership -- the borders of the "occupation" are not those of Gaza or the West Bank. They are the borders of Israel.
That is a view with which much of Arab opinion concurs. ArabicNews.com, for example, datelined its story on the Tel Aviv attack "Palestine-Israel," and reported that the bombings had killed "23 Israeli settlers." This despite the fact that none of the dead were residents of the settlements. Nearly one-third, in fact, weren't Israeli at all; they were non-Jewish guest workers from Europe, China, and Africa.
Israel reacted to last Sunday's slaughter not with a devastating military assault on Palestinian positions but with mere gestures: Combat helicopters fired on a weapons factory in Gaza, Palestinian delegates were barred from traveling to a conference in London, and some West Bank colleges were temporarily closed.
But mere gestures are not going to wipe out terrorism, nor are they going to turn Palestinian hearts and minds against the terrorists. Mere gestures can only feed Palestinian contempt for Israeli weakness, and reinforce the conviction that violence pays.
And for years now, violence has paid. In the 1970s, the PLO's hijackings and mass-murders won it international recognition and attention. The mayhem of the first intifada yielded the Oslo agreement, which legitimized the PLO and gave Arafat and his lieutenants a dictatorship in Gaza and the West Bank. The stepped-up terrorism of the Oslo years -- the years of the grossly misnamed "peace process" -- culminated in former Prime Minister Ehud Barak's astonishing offer of full sovereignty, dismantled settlements, and shared control of Jerusalem. The bloodshed inflicted by Hezbollah led to Israel's unilateral retreat from southern Lebanon.
Why shouldn't Israel be permitted to deal with Palestinian terrorism as the United States is dealing with Al Qaeda?
It is no wonder that so many Palestinians believe that terror and violence will eventually lead to the end of Israel and the creation of a 23d Arab state. The wonder is that Israel doesn't use its tremendous military power to disabuse them of that belief once and for all.
In fairness it must be said that Israel is not entirely free to act in its own best interest. It is under intense pressure from the US government to do nothing that might roil the Arab world in advance of the American invasion of Iraq. But why shouldn't Israel be permitted to deal with Palestinian terrorism as the United States is dealing with Al Qaeda? Why should Washington's plan to oust Saddam Hussein and transform Iraq into a democracy prevent Israel from ousting Arafat and working a similar transformation of Palestinian society?
After all, President Bush himself stressed last June that just such a sea change is a prerequisite for Arab-Israeli peace. Nothing is more crucial, he said, than replacing the cruel Arafat-Hamas regime with "a new and different Palestinian leadership," one "not compromised by terror." Only when Palestinians can sustain, in Bush's words, "a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty" will it make sense to demand even more concessions from Israel, or to talk about Palestinian statehood.
To demand "restraint" of Israel now, to insist that it voluntarily suppress its right to self-defense, is to make bloody atrocities like last Sunday's not less likely, but more so. Like the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Palestinian Authority and the murderers it supports must be crushed. That is the plain meaning of the Bush Doctrine, and the essential first step to peace.