Terrorists Take Charge

December 19, 1992

With the gruesome kidnap-murder of an Israeli border policeman, the terrorist organization Hamas took charge of the Middle East peace talks, which it intends to scuttle. All the parties reacting to the murder were Hamas' enemies -- the Israeli government, the Lebanese government and the PLO -- but they did its bidding. If they let Hamas call the shots, it happily will.

Israel's government, as always, responded by showing Israeli citizens that it protects them and puts their anxieties above foreign criticism. Not knowing who the murderers were, only that Hamas claimed credit, Israel rounded up 415 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza suspected of membership in Hamas and Islamic Jihad and shipped them over the border to Lebanon.

Lebanon's government, after checking with its bosses in Syria, refused to let the evictees in. Indeed, Syria keeps a tight lid on such people. So the 415 remained in no-man's land between two checkpoints, in rain, snow and mud.

Immediately, the PLO, which though officially banished from the peace talks made them possible by tacit participation, called the talks off. PLO-influenced leaders in the occupied territories called for "heavy clashes." The PLO arranged a meeting with the other Arab peace talk participants -- Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the PLO and Egypt -- to coordinate a response. The U.S., among other governments, condemned Israel's action. U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali did the same, and the Security Council was considering a resolution. Meanwhile, the 415 extremists in no-man's land called for the destruction of Israel.

In other words, every regime acted with pompous deceit and played into Hamas' hands. The PLO is Hamas' chief target. It knows that Hamas is out-terrorism-ing it and is gaining adherents because of the PLO's tentative new moderation. Israel's government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin knew that deporting Arabs who had not committed the murder would produce this effect, but hoped to silence hawkish Israelis who oppose giving away territory in peace talks. The governments of Egypt and Algeria are rounding up more Islamic extremists than Israel is.

Arab extremists are a greater danger to secular Arab governments -- such as Syria's -- than they are to Israel. Every government in the Middle East knows this. But in playing Hamas' game, all the participants in the peace talks are helping to wreck those talks.

If Hamas can achieve so much politically from just one murder, it will surely commit more murders. The way to beat Hamas is through peace talks, through coexistence, through immediate negotiated autonomy for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. That is what the State Department and Mr. Boutros-Ghali and the Arab negotiators and Israel should be telling each other.

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