Terrorism in Gaza

April 11, 1995

The bombers in Gaza are a small percentage of Palestinians. Militant settlers are a tinier proportion of Israelis. But these minorities could control events and determine policies. The Israeli government and the PLO have not allowed that, but the pressures mount.

Two suicide car bombers from rival extremist factions, in unrelated incidents Sunday, managed to kill seven Israeli soldiers and an American student and wound scores of Israelis.

After those attacks, Palestine Authority police rounded up more than 100 suspected terrorists but they have not mounted a major effort to disarm Hamas and Islamic Jihad, fearing a backlash would undermine Yasser Arafat.

Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin authorized Israel's negotiating team to return to talks in Cairo with the PLO on transferring the West Bank to the Palestine Authority. Without more effective security, however, the July 1 deadline for agreement on transfer is in jeopardy.

The day before the Gaza bombings, Israel's environment minister, Yossi Sarid, urged evacuation of certain Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, including one targeted. Yet after the bombings, Prime Minister Rabin, who despises the settlers, ruled this out. The agreement with the PLO does not call for it at this stage. To withdraw now or even urge that, many Israelis fear, would legitimize terrorism.

Yet Israel has its own ambiguity. The Rabin government lets Baruch Marzel operate the proscribed violent Kach group from a spurious house arrest. Armed vigilante patrols by militant settlers have resumed in the West Bank. Just as Mr. Arafat should prevent activities that harm the peace process, so should Israel's government.

Only some 4,000 Israelis live in tiny settlements in Gaza. Few Israelis sympathize with them and Israeli soldiers defending them are inordinately at risk. Very few Israelis believe that Gaza ought to be Israel. Many, however, believing that Jewish settlements should remain in the West Bank, are reluctant to concede precedents for their evacuation.

Peace depends on the stifling of terrorism and extremism. To this end, cooperation between Mr. Rabin's Israel and Mr. Arafat's Palestine Authority is essential.

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