Agence France-Presse reports today that the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, has informed the cabinet that Hamas’s leadership in Damascus has called for a large-scale suicide bombing in the West Bank. Why now? Because Hamas wants to derail the U.S.-Israel-Fatah peace talks in spectacular fashion.
The significance of this story goes far beyond the predictable revelation that Hamas wishes to get back into the business of suicide bombings. When it comes to the peace process, whether Hamas is planning a terrorist attack today or next week is almost totally irrelevant. What is relevant are three interrelated questions: 1) Does Hamas, or any Palestinian terrorist group, intend to perpetrate terrorism against Israel? 2) Is there a significant climate of public opinion in the West Bank that approves of such attacks? 3) Is Mahmoud Abbas powerful enough to stop terrorism, despite its popularity and the eagerness of groups like Hamas to attack? Unfortunately, the answer to the first two questions is yes, and the answer to the last is no.
The opinion polling data on the second question is dispiritingly clear. To take one example, a 2006 survey by the Jerusalem Media & Communication Center—JMCC is a Palestinian, not Israeli, outfit—asked: “How do you feel towards suicide bombing operations against Israeli civilians? Do you support them, or oppose them?” 56.2 percent said they either strongly or somewhat support suicide bombings. As long as numbers like these describe the current Palestinian reality, there will be no meaningful peace process. Which also means there will be no real Palestinian state.
This remains the fundamental dynamic of the conflict, and the reason for the terminal fragility of the peace effort. The negotiations now being conducted between Olmert and Abbas are taking place in an alternate reality, in the realm of diplomatic resolutions whose purview aspires to be sweeping, but which is actually limited to the paper on which such agreements are written and the press conferences at which they are affirmed. Where the peace process does not exist is on the ground in the West Bank, Gaza, and Damascus—in the realm of facts.
When Hamas does manage to carry out a major suicide bombing, all of the hopeful diplomatic print-on-paper will be obliterated (along with Israeli lives), and Israel will be forced to respond. The IDF presence in the West Bank will be strengthened, violence will escalate, and hopes for a real peace (which requires as its first step, rather than its last, a sea change in Palestinian public opinion regarding terrorism and its use against the Jewish state) will once again be lost.