ISRAEL NEEDS to be strong, decisive and principled. But nothing good will come from its aggressive assassinations, which have killed innocent children along with suspected terrorists.
Israeli officials reject criticism of their tactics, saying the benefits of the assassination policy outweigh the dangers. "If the choice is taking off the snake, we opt for the latter," one official spokesman said.
The problem is that messy assassinations only escalate the spiral of violence, inviting merciless revenge from Palestinian extremists.
Moreover, the uncompromising Israeli attitude radicalizes all Palestinians, making it difficult for anyone to defend calls for peace and reconciliation.
In the end, the question must be asked: Is Israel better off with Yasser Arafat, regardless of how weak and imperfect his 7-year-old Palestinian Authority may be, than with Hamas, which is dedicated to Israel's destruction?
If polls are to be believed, nearly half of Israelis favor an all-out assault on the Palestinian Authority. The escalating violence has left the cease-fire negotiated by CIA Director George J. Tenet just a month ago in tatters. Violence feeds further brutalities.
There is plenty of blame to go around. The absence of a negotiated peace and the resulting Palestinian unrest provoked the election of hard-liner Ariel Sharon. Yet there will be no winners if the violence goes unchecked.
A framework for further negotiations exists. It is the blueprint issued in May by a commission headed by former Sen. George Mitchell that called for a cooling-off period, confidence-building measures, an end to expanding settlements and resumption of peace talks.
Both sides accepted the report - but insist on radically different interpretations.
Israel is militarily mighty enough to achieve a temporal security through strong-arming and subjugation of the Palestinians people. Many Israelis exhort Mr. Sharon - an old Haganah warrior with a reputation of ferocity - to pursue that inflexible course, which in the end will do nothing to secure Israel's long-term safety.
From Israel's birth in 1948, the United States has been among its staunchest supporters.
This is why President Bush must forcefully convince both the Israelis and the Palestinians of the necessity for peace and reconciliation, however much such efforts may be resisted in today's poisoned atmosphere.
Cessation of hostilities is the only way; killing breeds killing.