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Tuesday, 27 March, 2001, 00:41 GMT 01:41 UK
Israeli mistrust grows
Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon
The election of Ariel Sharon appalled Palestinians
By Middle East correspondent Frank Gardner in Jerusalem

Recent attacks on Israelis have triggered a public debate over whether relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are worth pursuing.

Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has accused the Palestinian leadership of taking part in attacks on Israeli citizens.

Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat
Israelis do not know if they trust Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
The Israeli press has noted that the Palestinian Authority did not condemn a bomb attack in Netanya in early March, which killed four people and injured dozens more.

Mutual distrust between Israelis and Palestinians is now at an all-time high.

The Palestinians are appalled that the Israeli electorate should have chosen the right-wing hardliner Mr Sharon as their new prime minister.

Most Israelis have lost nearly all confidence in and respect for the Palestinian Authority.

Complicity

More and more Israelis suspect the Palestinian leadership of complicity in attacks on Israelis, and many no longer believe that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has the power to stop those attacks.

According to David Horovitz, the editor of the twice-weekly magazine The Jerusalem Report, Israel is now in what he called "a twilight zone".


He said opinion was polarised between those who still believe Mr Arafat is Israel's best hope for a peace deal, and those who believe that the Palestinian Authority is a terrorist entity and should be confronted as one.

In the wake of the latest bomb attack, the Israeli press has been exploring alternatives to the current sorry state of relations between Israel and the Palestinian leadership.

An article on the front page of Monday's Jerusalem Post looks at options for lowering Israeli casualties, and for pressing the Palestinians into giving up their armed confrontation.

Economic option

The article rules out a full-scale military offensive as being too costly in human terms.

But it suggests weakening the Palestinian Authority through economic pressure, in the hopes of giving it an incentive to end the violence.

One of the victims being evacuated
Sunday's bomb attack was the fourth this year
Another article, also in the Jerusalem Post, suggests that the collapse of the Palestinian Authority may not be such a bad thing, as the ensuing chaos might reduce the Palestinians' appetite for an independent state.

Palestinians, for their part, say such reasoning is misguided.

They say it underestimates the lengths to which their people are prepared to go to win an independent state, free from Israeli occupation.

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See also:

04 Mar 01 | Middle East
Sharon clinches key coalition deal
03 Mar 01 | Middle East
Army chief warns Palestinians
01 Mar 01 | Middle East
Israel's history of bomb blasts
01 Jan 01 | Middle East
Explosions rock Israeli town
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