Fight operations of terrorism — but ignore it politically

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What is there left to say that hasn't already been said a hundred times before?

If the bomb blast, by sheer chance, has not touched us directly, we watch others play out the same script after each terrorist outrage: The dead are eulogized and buried, the wounded are treated, the protesters come out with their signs to condemn the peace process and vilify the government. Yasser Arafat expresses his condemnation, the negotiations are suspended for a few days, the territories are closed for a while, the politicians repeat their tired formulas, and a week later, things return to normal.

In this reality, it is difficult to feel anything but rage, or advocate constraint. It is almost shameful to talk about politics while others still lie in recovery rooms, or fresh graves.

But while anger is inevitable and even therapeutic, it cannot be allowed to drive out all reason. We must try, as individuals and as a society, to cope with the psychology of this murderous conflict, including the psychopathology that drives some Palestinians to blow themselves up in order to kill Israelis.

Anger is not constructive, and if we want to go beyond ventilation and retain some hope that the same scenario will not go on repeating itself without end, we must also try to continue focusing on the conflict itself.

Techniques and tactics are necessary to fight terrorism, but they are not enough. There is no mechanical solution to the problem of suicide-bombers short of killing or expelling every single Palestinian and even in the depths of our own grief and despair, the words express an idea too grotesque to be taken seriously.

But while we cannot intercept all the psychopaths who seek personal redemption in an exploding bus, we can undermine the political environment that encourages, nurtures and supports them.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad do not send their own children to die; they cultivate and exploit other sorry individuals in order to promote their political agenda. That agenda includes their primacy in Palestinian politics, which is threatened by the peace process.

As the process moves forward, Islamic resistance therefore becomes more violent. This is vicious, but it is not mindless: Since the Islamists cannot destroy Arafat themselves, they hope to inflict enough Israeli casualties to convince Israel to do it for them.

The question for Israelis is not whether Arafat is morally preferable to Ahmad Yassin, but whether doing Hamas' political bidding will give them back their own security. It is a difficult and painful calculation to make, especially because the price in Israeli blood is likely to rise as the prospect for an interim agreement brings the struggle for Palestinian primacy to a head.

At times like these, there is a powerful natural temptation to lash out. But the most rational course for Israel remains to fight terrorism operationally and ignore it politically.

This is emotionally frustrating, but anything else will make a terrible situation even worse.