Israel’s press conceded that the Middle East conflict reached a new level of hopelessness this weekend but agreed that Israel was justified in responding to Palestinian violence. The Jerusalem Post said: “No other country in the world would have let such a vicious attack as the ‘Seder Night Massacre’ in Netanya go unpunished. Most countries … have reacted far more ferociously than Israel when similar events occurred in their countries.” Even liberal Ha’aretz declared, “No state in the world would countenance a situation in which its capital, cities and communities were at all times targets of the sort of murderous terror attacks which the Palestinians are perpetrating against us.” Last Thursday’s suicide bombing at a Passover seder, where 22 were killed and 130 wounded, was particularly poignant, perhaps, Ha’aretz speculated, “because it had the character of a pogrom, and was marked more by signs of hatred of the Jews than of a struggle for liberation from the Israeli conquest.”
Still, there was concern that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon went too far when he declared war on Yasser Arafat and the “Palestinian terror infrastructure.” Ha’aretz bemoaned the “limited value inherent in a military operation: It will not end the confrontation and will not destroy terrorism.” By launching attacks so soon after the Arab League summit endorsed the Saudi peace initiative, moreover, “the government has once more awakened concerns that in its struggle against the Palestinian Authority, it is not honestly offering a hand of peace but is aiming to achieve the opposite: to continue and perpetuate the hold over the territories.” An op-ed in the Hebrew-language Yediot Ahronot (translation courtesy of Lebanon’s Daily Star) predicted:
We are rolling toward war. A war without a name and without a goal, without military marches or joy of conquest, a war in which the enemy was only yesterday a welcome guest in our homes and we were welcome guests in his. Whatever the results of this war, we can already declare one of the winners: terror. The aim of terror was to draw the two nations into a war for survival—us or them. They succeeded beyond any nightmare.”
Several papers around the world worried that Israel had erred in humiliating Yasser Arafat, who is currently trapped in his Ramallah office. Spain’s El País said he had become “a symbol of resistance. … Arafat has lost his administrative capacity, but he has gained moral authority.” Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald fretted that “the violence involved in military incursions into heavily populated civilian areas, the breach of Palestinian territory and the terror of a promised round-up of Palestinian suspects threaten to enrage an entire people.” But an analysis in the Jerusalem Post was more bullish about Israel’s strategy of isolating Arafat. It predicted:
[A] sustained and powerful Israeli response, destroying the terrorist infrastructure and leaving “General” Arafat and his lieutenants visibly impotent, will undermine the suicide bombers’ motivation. Hundreds of easily manipulated Palestinians were persuaded to give up their lives for what they were convinced was a sacred goal, but once the goal is out of reach martyrdom becomes irrelevant.