No victory for Hamas

West Bank Palestinian Yehiyya Ayash, the suspected Hamas planner of several deadly suicide bus bombings in Israel, apparently can't lose.

The Hamas figure, who is believed to have planned this week's bloody Ramat Gan bus attack, has succeeded in killing many Jews and in inflaming tensions enough to delay peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

From a Hamas point of view, Ayash and others like him are sitting in the driver's seat, heading toward all-out war for control of a Palestinian state.

First, Hamas gets to send young Palestinian martyrs carrying time bombs into eternal Holy War, and spill as much Jewish blood as possible in the process.

Longer, but just as sure a path toward a bloodier destination, is the reaction such terror will strike in Israel and from the offices of the reputed governor of the emerging Palestinian state, Yasser Arafat.

The sight of mangled Jewish bodies in that most ordinary of settings, a bus, not only gladdens some Palestinian hearts, but fuels political ammunition for Israelis already opposed to a Palestinian state under Arafat, such as Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hamas also rejoices at the political fire aimed at Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, for it burns any good will that may have built up in Israel for the peace process, and has already succeeded in getting the peace talks delayed and likely moved to a non-Mideast setting.

Coming after Bet Lid and Dizengoff, the Ramat Gan murders also have begun pushing more moderate Israelis like President Ezer Weizman to call for an outright halt in the peace process.

Yet another reason for Hamas to celebrate is Arafat. After dozens of Israelis have been blown to bits, Arafat musters the courage to meekly utter the word "terrorist" in response to the latest monstrosity.

Arafat's reaction, which should have been the very least response to come from him at the first Hamas attack last year, points to his lack of courage and impotence as a political leader, which should also make Hamas smile.

For in the year since he has evolved from terrorist and revolutionary symbol to governor, Arafat has been ineffectual in handling Hamas. Occasional midnight raids, arrests and torture do not a put-down make.

So Jewish blood keeps flowing. The only hope to head off further attacks is for Arafat and Rabin to stay the course of peace, and for Arafat to show real leadership. Better a brutal crackdown now than a Palestinian civil war later.