"By God, we will not leave one Jew in Palestine."
Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi, from his hospital bed
"Israel is targeting Palestinian civilians, so Israeli civilians should be targeted. From now on all Israeli people are targets." Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, after the Israeli attempt to kill Rantissi
Sheikh Yassin says that now Hamas will attack Israeli civilians. Rantisi says now they will drive every Jew from Israel. Now they are really angry.
Imagine for a moment that Osama bin Laden's redoubt was being bombed by the United States, and the world responded by lecturing the Americans about torpedoing the possibility for negotiations and feeding a "cycle of violence." Imagine further that bin Laden responded to the bombings with threats to "retaliate" against Americans everywhere.
Yet no one believes in negotiations with al-Qaida. And there would be little point in al-Qaida contending that it was "retaliating" after it had murdered 3,000 Americans.
What makes Israel's war against Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah different? There are two ostensible differences. First, the terrorists are identified with a cause that is supported by Israel and the United States: creating a Palestinian state. Second, a diplomatic process is in motion that, by some combination of force and negotiations, is supposed to substitute for simply crushing these organizations.
Neither of these proposed reasons for treating Palestinian terrorists differently holds water. As Rantisi and every other terrorist leader openly proclaims, their goal is not a Palestinian state beside Israel, but one replacing Israel. Rantisi is an Islamo-fascist of the same stripe as bin Laden, with similar totalitarian and genocidal goals.
If the goal is two democratic states living peacefully side by side, there is no logic in treating Hamas with kid gloves. Their struggle has no more legitimacy than al-Qaida's, and is in fact a branch of bin Laden's struggle to defeat the "Zionists and Crusaders."
But what about the peace process? How could Israel make Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas's job more difficult by attacking the very people with whom he's attempting to negotiate a cease-fire? Even President George W. Bush is "troubled" by Israel's action.
Actually, the trouble is that the negotiated alternative was not working, and had no chance of working. Abbas has repeatedly ruled out using force against Hamas. And the pace of attacks has only increased since the Aqaba summit, including the five Israeli soldiers killed at Erez and in Hebron, the couple stabbed to death in a forest in Jerusalem, continuing mortar attacks against Sderot, and the 16 murdered yesterday in Jerusalem by a suicide bomber.
The terrorist organizations had no reason to heed Abbas's toothless calls and every reason to continue their attacks. If Abbas is indeed trying to make peace with Israel, why should they help him? At the same time, if Abbas is unwilling to take it upon himself to curb Palestinian terrorism, who will?
For now, the only credible answer is the IDF. As for the notion, in wide circulation here and particularly overseas, that IDF retaliation only prompts further Palestinian terrorist attacks, we can only point to the dozens of attacks that occurred in the absence of Israeli "provocation," stretching back to the bus bombings of the 1990s. That there are still people so indefatigably credulous as to believe that every Palestinian atrocity must have been provoked by some prior Israeli misdeed amazes us.
We are similarly amazed by the notion that the Sharon government should have abstained from retaliation. Exactly how many victims, we would like to know, must a terror attack claim in order to justify Israeli retaliation? And just how much time should Sharon give Abbas's efforts at negotiation? A month? A year?
In truth, a policy of Israeli retaliation only serves Abbas's immediate purposes, not least because they absolve him of the responsibility and the domestic political fallout for taking on Hamas. It might be argued that this is a responsibility Abbas had best discharge himself. But that argument doesn't wash as long as Abbas doesn't confront Hamas head on.
The task now is not to cower from Hamas's threat of retaliation, as if retaliation is what these people do. The task is to strike at Rantisi and his cohorts again, truly to drive the organization underground, and to create the conditions in which Abbas, if he is sincere, can assume the responsibilities he made his own at Aqaba.
Until that point is reached, there can be no turning back.