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Don't Let Hamas Win : Arafat invites his own political destruction if he doesn't stop equivocating

October 21, 1994

The Middle East peace process will survive the terrorist atrocity carried out in Tel Aviv by Palestinian Muslim fundamentalists. It will survive because the leaders of Israel and Yasser Arafat, who heads the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, know that to let the process fail is to concede victory to the Hamas extremists, who dream only of Israel's replacement with a rigidly theocratic Palestine on the Iranian model. So Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will continue to talk. But the extremist horrors will continue.

Israel's Cabinet has approved various measures, some unannounced, in response to Wednesday's bus bombing that killed more than 20 in downtown Tel Aviv. Palestinians who commute to Israel for work will, once again, be denied entry and so their livelihood. The police will be bolstered. Beyond that it's a near-certainty that Israeli security forces have been ordered to move more aggressively to capture or kill members of Hamas.

How effective will all this be? Two years ago Israel exiled to Lebanon 400 men it identified as top Hamas members. That action, however, neither weakened nor demoralized the group.

Tougher measures against Hamas may help ease Israeli pain over the Tel Aviv outrage. But will Hamas really be harmed? For the most part Hamas is now simply beyond Israel's reach. What Israel couldn't do when it still had military control over Hamas' breeding ground in Gaza it can hardly hope to achieve now.

Only Arafat and his regime are capable of neutralizing Hamas and shielding the peace process from its most committed enemies. Arafat's timidity so far has only emboldened the zealots, allowing them both to expand their terrorism and increase their appeal to young hotheads. The plain fact now is that Arafat invites his own political destruction if he doesn't stop equivocating.

He has run out of options: Hamas must be disarmed and broken up by the Palestinian Authority. Hamas can't bring Israel down. But in time it assuredly can destroy the hopes of Palestinians for self-rule, dooming a people that has never known real independence to a continued political limbo.

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