The need to curb terror
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The Hamas leadership is concerned about the deteriorating condition of Palestinian life in the West Bank and Gaza. Poverty rates that have spiraled past 50 percent and the social and economic trauma of living under siege and curfew are taking a heavy toll on increasingly desperate ordinary Palestinians. Hamas wants to avoid anything that would cause the group to be seen as prolonging that agony, or provoke a conflict with the PA.
The Israeli reaction
In Israel, the triumphalism that followed the air strike Prime Minister Sharon called it one of Israel's "greatest successes" quickly turned into a chorus of self-flagellation Wednesday in the face of fierce international criticism over the civilian casualties. Israel's President Moshe Katsav, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and a number of military officials described the decision to drop a one-ton bomb in densely populated Gaza as a mistake. The IDF and the Shin Bet security service even launched an inquiry into the "intelligence failure" that resulted in such high civilian casualties.
Israel's beleaguered peace camp went even further, questioning the timing of the strike in light of the comparative calm of recent weeks and renewed diplomatic activity. The dovish Haaretz newspaper pointed to previous instances, such as the assassination earlier this year of Fatah Tanzim commander Raed Karni, which prompted a wave of Palestinian terror attacks in retaliation and ended a period of relative quiet. But it dismissed the charge that this was the result of a deliberate attempt to sabotage peace efforts.
Still, the shock waves of the Gaza strike are likely to include renewed pressure on the Labor Party to quit Sharon's unity government. Although the leader of the Labor Party, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, was involved in the decision to attack Shehade, his membership is growing restless. Dalia Rabin-Pelosoff, daughter of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, quit her post as deputy defense minister Tuesday, saying she could not remain in a government that had abandoned her father's pursuit of peace.
In Gaza, the political calculations are different. Once again, those advocating political solutions are likely to find themselves eclipsed by the bombers. Their erstwhile leader Salah Shehade may lie dead and cold in the ground, but for now he's won the Palestinian political debate.