Mideast Bomb Hits

August 14, 2001

Mideast bombs hit target

By Gwynne Dyer

 Fourteen Israelis and at least six children were killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber in a Sbarro’s pizzeria in Jerusalem on Thursday. Sunday evening, a suicide bombing evening injured 20 people sitting on the patio of a cafe in a suburb of Haifa.

These outrages have a great impact on public opinion at home and abroad – but then, they’re intended to.

“Nothing is gained by cowardly acts such as this,” said President Bush after the Jerusalem bombing, using a formula that must be pasted on the TelePrompter by now. It’s what he had to say – what everybody in authority is obliged to say when these things happen – but of course it isn’t true.

There is nothing cowardly about blowing yourself up. It may be misguided, vicious, any number of negative things, but cowardly isn’t one of them. And the 23-year-old man who detonated the bomb in Sbarro’s (one Hussein Omar Naaseh, if we are to believe the claim of the militant Palestinian group Islamic Jihad) did expect it to gain something. He may be right.

The point about the bombings is precisely that they have a long-term political purpose. Many of the other killings in the Israel-Palestine arena at the moment have short-term tactical purposes, like the targeted Israeli assassinations of Palestinian militants and the drive-by shootings of Jewish settlers by Palestinian gunmen. But the massacres committed by the human bombs are strategic, not tactical.

The point of the bombings, for those who lead Islamic Jihad, is to prevent a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians that enshrines the current supplicant status of the Palestinians forever. Young “martyrs” like Hussein may not fully grasp it, but they are meant to fill Israelis with such hatred for Palestinians that they reject any peace deal with the likes of Yasir Arafat in this generation. For in the following generation or the next, when the balance of forces has changed, such deals may not be necessary.

The real question, for people who think like this, is whether there will be an Israel in 2100. There will almost certainly still be an Israel in 2020, though on current demographic trends its population (within the 1948 borders) will be one-third Palestinian. There will probably still be a Jewish-dominated Israel in 2050, though by then several Arab states will likely have nuclear weapons too and the United States will no longer be the sole superpower. But will there be an Israel in 2100, or will it by then have shared the fate of the various European-run Crusader states that flourished in the region 1,000 years ago?

Israelis think about this, too. It’s clearest in the case of the mostly American settlers in the settlements of the West Bank, who are prepared to sacrifice not only their own lives but those of the next couple of generations to ensure that this land becomes (or as they would put it, remains) Jewish. But every prime minister of Israel from David Ben Gurion to Ariel Sharon has also thought about 2100, and how to get there without losing what has been gained.

Arabs, rightly or wrongly, think that time is on their side. A hundred years from now, they assume, Israel’s Western friends will be less dominant in the world’s affairs,and Muslim countries will be more prominent, and the current technological gap will long since have closed.

Many Israeli leaders, including those on the right, make the same assumptions – which makes them ambivalent about a compromise peace now, rather than totally opposed to it. Even men like Sharon are reluctant to slam the door definitively on a negotiated peace in this generation, though their terms for peace are unlikely ever to be acceptable to Palestinians.

This explains Sharon’s surprisingly measured response to the Jerusalem bombing: The occupation of Orient House in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s “head office” in the city, is hardly a killing blow. But the bombers(who despise Arafat as much as Sharon) are not finished, and the Israelis who voted for Sharon do not take nearly as long a view as he does. In the end, the bombers may win.