MADRID, Spain -- Extremism inevitably plays its deadly hand when people go to talk about peace in the Middle East.
In the last couple of days, Israelis, Arabs and one American have been killed in the name of passionate ambitions that have been deliberately taken off the agenda in Madrid so the meeting here could take place.
Yesterday alone, three Israeli soldiers were killed in ambushes by Arab guerrillas in southern Lebanon. Two Arabs were killed by the Israelis in the same area. Many others were wounded. The Israeli air force was in the air bombarding Islamic fundamentalist enclaves in south Lebanon. A rocket fired from a hillside blasted the wall of the U.S. Embassy compound in East Beirut. No one was hurt in the attack.
The day before, two Israeli settlers on their way to demonstrate against the peace conference were killed in an ambush by Arabs in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Several settlers were injured. Both the Hezbollah (Party of God) and the radical Damascus-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility. A bomb killed a U.S. serviceman in Ankara, the Turkish capital. The Turkish Islamic Jihad claimed that attack.
Uncounted are the number who may have died in artillery exchanges between Arab guerrillas and the Israelis in south Lebanon, where Israel patrols a buffer zone north of its border with Lebanon.
There also have been more subtle actions that will probably sow more mistrust among the reluctant participants in this meeting in Madrid. New leaflets distributed by Palestinians have called for an increase in violence. Israelis have reinstated measures to prevent Palestinians from entering Jerusalem.
Those steps -- intentionally or not -- serve extremists who insist that Israelis and Arabs can never live together peacefully and that one side must vanquish the other. For the true hard-liners of the various sides, the negotiations that are about to begin here threaten to undermine their most fundamental beliefs.
And the most fundamental of all their beliefs happen to be the same: that the holy land is theirs by divine right -- to hold onto, in the case of the Israelis who occupy it now; to recapture, in the case of the Arabs and the militant followers of Islam. Anything less is unacceptable to extremists on either side. Something less is what people in Madrid are talking about. A little killing could discourage them.
Yesterday, Sheik Abbas Musawi, the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, made it plain enough.
"Our mujahedeen [Islamic holy warriors] will carry out more and more attacks on the Zionist enemy," he said. "Our aim is to liberate Jerusalem. This is our sacred duty."
The peace talks, he said, were an opportunity for "Israel to go to Madrid to build a Greater Israel from the Euphrates to the Nile."
Yisrael Medad, a Jewish settler, is another hard-liner, although of a different kind. For him, the most important goal is Israel's continued control over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. About 100,000 Jewish settlers live there, and many of them feel that their presence is a fulfillment of God's designation of the land for them in conversations with the ancient Jewish patriarchs. JTC Palestinians contend that the same land should be theirs.
Mr. Medad led a delegation of settlers to Madrid, a group unhappy that its government decided to join peace talks that will include a debate over the future of those lands. He lives in a West Bank settlement called Shilo, the home of one of the settlers killed Monday.
Mr. Medad is among the small minority of Israelis worried that Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir may be too moderate. "Israel is allowing itself to be maneuvered into positions that are bad for it," Mr. Medad said.
Mr. Shamir, who is to lead Israel's delegation, pledged that the recent violence would not affect his country's participation at the talks.
"Some might have expected that in face of this terror, Israel would not attend the conference," Mr. Shamir said. "But despite this violence, our press for peace is unrelenting." He said Israel knew how to strike back at "Palestinian murderers."
Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, uninvited to the Madrid conference because Israelis regard him as the quintessential extremist, seemed oddly enough in the same position as Mr. Shamir. He condemned all the violence from his headquarters in Tunisia yesterday.
"Extremist Palestinian groups constitute a threat to the success of the negotiations," Mr. Arafat said in an interview with German television.
Which side will prevail in Madrid?
Zuhair Janaan meets the question with a measure of indifference that helps people to survive in the bloody politics of the Middle East.
Mr. Janaan is in Madrid on behalf of another hard-liner, the Syrian government and its leader, President Hafez el Assad.
As the official responsible for Syria's contacts with the press, he is following his government's instructions to avoid talking with Israeli journalists, at least before the conference begins.
"Before the opening, there should be no contacts," said Mr. Janaan, whose one-person office is the smallest public relations effort of any of the delegations.
And after the opening?
"It depends on the atmosphere."