Blast Ignites War of Words In Israel; US Visit in Doubt
Peace Process Shaken
Prospects for Middle East peace suffered another shock yesterday when three suicide bombs exploded on a popular Jerusalem street.
The blasts, which left at least 6 dead and 165 wounded, comes days before US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was due to visit to try to ensure that such terrorist acts do not occur again.
The Islamic resistance movement Hamas reportedly claimed responsibility for the bombs. Hamas has taken a more public and militant role in recent months as Palestinians have grown increasingly disillusioned with the peace process.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was elected on the strength of his promise of providing "peace with security," has recently blamed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for not doing enough to control terrorism, and the violence is sure to complicate - if not halt - Ms. Albright's mission. President Arafat claims that his security services have done all they can, making a "100 percent effort" to control extremist violence. But few on either side say that it is possible to stop a determined suicide bomber.
Israeli public opinion has strongly supported Mr. Netanyahu's tough measures against Palestinians in the aftermath of a July 30 bombing in the Mahane Yehudah market, about a quarter-mile from the latest blasts. The earlier bombing had left 17 dead.
This blast is likely to bolster Netanyahu's arguments against Arafat and for even tougher measures. Just after the bombing, the closure was reimposed.
"Why do we let the Palestinians in one month and then shut them out the next?" said Heffi Hasut, standing next next to his damaged gift store, with its smashed windows and broken back-to-school decorations. "We should keep them out," said Mr. Hasut, further criticizing what he deems Israel's seesaw policy on Palestinian workers from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
After the July bombing, Netanyahu threatened to deploy Israeli troops to exclusively Palestinian-controlled areas to quell terrorism, in violation of the Oslo peace accords.
"The Israeli people must go into the territories, arrest people, and kick out Arafat," says Isaac Kobi, whose barber shop overlooks the bomb scene, echoing widely felt views.
"No one can stop this terror, no one but us," he says. "If we go back into the territories, we can stop it."
The Ben Yehudah pedestrian mall, site of the blast, is a collection of trendy cobblestone streets full of outdoor cafes, tourist gift shops, and street musicians.
But yesterday a carpet of broken glass covered the ground in one of the popular bustling areas of downtown Jerusalem. Shards crackled under the feet of policemen and emergency crews wearing plastic gloves to protect their hands from the debris.
Albright, in a policy address Aug. 6, made clear she would not visit the region until she saw signs of a serious Palestinian effort to clamp down on extremist violence. But despite Arafat's declarations of a strong effort, support for Hamas has grown in the weeks that Palestinians have been subject to the Israeli closures.
At a meeting with a group of Israelis three weeks ago, Arafat claimed that he would not be able to control a "mass uprising" caused by such strong Israeli measures.
Hamas, for its part, has been emboldened by its inclusion in a meeting a week after the July 30 bombing, which Palestinian leaders called a "unity conference." Arafat was criticized by Israelis then for embracing Abdul-aziz Rantissi, a top Hamas political leader.
In an interview two days ago, Mr. Rantissi confirmed Hamas's growing support and effectively made a call to arms for further "resistance" to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
"Surely it is difficult for Arafat, but every day the people believe that his Palestinian Authority should return to the trenches, to continue the struggle again," he said. "It is the only way our people will get their full rights."
Rantissi's name was on a list supplied to Arafat's security services by Israel as a Hamas leader they said should be arrested. Arafat has so far refused to round up Hamas supporters and crack down on the infrastructure of Hamas and other extremist groups as he did one year ago, when more than 1,000 people were arrested in an overnight sweep.
Barely more than 100 of those are still in jail despite strong US and Israeli pressure to reimpose that kind of control. Rantissi says he expects to be arrested and has refused security.
"We know very well we can't liberate Palestine in a few years. Even if Palestinians use their full effort to do so, they will fail," he says. "But while our enemy is upon our land we shouldn't make it stable or easy for them. Now we can't liberate our land, but in the future, I think we can."
In a chaotic aftermath of the bombing that has become familiar to Israelis, furious crowds gathered and shouted "death to peace" and "leftists go home." "What is this peace for?" cried a woman name Nili. "To pass fruit back and forth over the Jordanian border? The Americans shouldn't bother sending Albright. All they want is their Nobel Prizes."