Saturday, May 03, 2008

'Israeli tactics collide with peace process' says New York Times report

Suicide bombings in Israel have dropped off so significantly that the nation's security officials now dare to speak openly of success. But the very steps they are taking to thwart bombers appear to collide head on with the government's agenda of achieving peace with the Palestinians, writes Isabel Kershner, the New York Times reporter.

It is a classic military-political dilemma. The progress in stopping suicide bombers, the vast majority of whom cross into Israel from the West Bank, has brought enough quiet for Israel to resume peace talks with the Palestinian leadership there.

But the current calm is fragile, and to maintain it Israeli security officials say they must continue their nightly arrests and sometimes deadly raids in the heart of the West Bank - tactics at odds with a peace process that envisions a separate Palestinian state, an eventual Israeli withdrawal from much of the West Bank and, in the meantime, a gradual handover of authority to the Palestinian police.

"The price of staying out" of the West Bank, said a senior Israeli military official, "might be one that we don't want to pay." The military's faith in its efforts comes across in charts showing a steep decline in suicide bombings - from a high of 59 in 2002 to only one in 2007, and one so far this year.

"It is far from a coincidence," said Colonel Herzi Halevi, commander of the Israeli Army's Paratroops Brigade, which is at the forefront of the military campaign in the West Bank, where the borders are longer and more permeable than those in Gaza, the other Palestinian territory. "It is not that the terrorists did not try enough. They did. We know."

The military's sea change came after a particularly bloody spring in 2002, when a Palestinian from the West Bank traveled 14 kilometers, or 9 miles, across Israel and walked into the modest Park Hotel in the coastal resort town of Netanya, blowing himself up in the dining hall on the eve of Passover.

The Park Hotel massacre, as it became known, was the climax of a bloody month in which 130 Israelis died in suicide bombings and other attacks. Within days Israeli forces invaded most of the Palestinian cities of the West Bank in an operation named Defensive Shield, wresting back control from the Palestinian Authority security forces who were supposed to be laying the foundations for a nascent Palestinian state.

Six years later, such heavyhanded tactics are starting to be questioned; yet the official memorial days for Israeli soldiers and civilian victims recall the blood-soaked past in stark detail. Peace cannot be achieved as a body-count. As the quartet meets to hammer out a modus operandi to end combat and take steps for a peaceful coexistence, cynics shake their heads.

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