Not bombers, not barriers

January 15, 2004

THE SECURITY fence separating Israel from the Gaza Strip didn't keep Reem Raiyshi from detonating her suicide bomb at the border yesterday. The 21-year-old mother of two exploited Israel's efforts to get jobless Palestinians back to work by joining a group of laborers waiting to cross into Israel. The likely targets of her bomb were Israeli soldiers at the Erez Crossing; four people died. But Palestinians will pay a price for her ideological madness - we just don't know yet how.

Yesterday's bombing is a dreadful reminder of why Israelis and Palestinians have to press their leaders to forge a new path toward peace. Security barriers and suicide bombers won't end this conflict, now in its fourth year, that has claimed the lives of more than 2,700 Palestinians and 865 Israelis.

In recent months, Israel has reissued work permits to thousands of Palestinians in a commendable gesture aimed at easing the hardships of its military occupation. At the same time, the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has pushed on with its construction of a 425-mile security barrier through the disputed West Bank, a line of defense to keep suicide bombers from entering Israel. In justifying the barrier, Israel often points to the security fence that separates the Jewish state from the Gaza Strip and the dearth of bombers who originate from there.

But Palestinian militants, such as the Islamic group Hamas, which recruited Ms. Raiyshi for yesterday's deadly mission, won't be stopped by a chain-link fence or a concrete wall or a security barrier. They may be slowed down - the last suicide bombing occurred at Christmas in Tel Aviv. But stopped? Militants say they won't give up their violent ways until Israel withdraws from their land.

Israel's 2003 terrorism report shows that the terror infrastructure stretches from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip. It attributed the majority of suicide attacks to West Bank groups. But it also found that terror cells in Gaza accounted for 70 percent of the total number of attacks.

Israel's security barrier stands as a physical and metaphorical impediment to Palestinian statehood. It is viewed as a de facto border that will reduce the size of any future state. And it points up the impotence of Palestinian leaders to influence the course of the stalled peace process, which in turn strengthens the militants. Palestinian support of the militants perpetuates the retaliatory strikes that follow a terror attack, which lead to further hardship and deaths.

How many more have to die before each side acknowledges the failure of its actions? The future of Israelis and Palestinians can only be determined jointly, through negotiation - not with barriers and bombs.

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