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Thursday, 20 June, 2002, 00:06 GMT 01:06 UK
Analysis: How can Israel find security?
Megiddo bus attack aftermath, June 2002
Another day - another suicide attack
Martin Asser

Successive suicide attacks by Palestinian human bombs mean that Israelis are still conscious of playing Russian roulette whenever they board a bus or enter a shopping mall.

Clearly, Israel's massive Operation Defensive Shield in April to "root out the terrorist infrastructure" in the West Bank has failed to prevent determined suicide bombers hitting their targets.

Ariel Sharon
Sharon is under pressure to make Israelis feel safe again
In fact the ever-harsher military operations in the Palestinian-ruled territories have apparently had the effect of provoking ever-more-frequent and ferocious Palestinian attacks to terrorise the Israeli public.

Many Israelis now favour physically sealing off the West Bank from Israel - just as Gaza has been - meaning that only Jewish settlements, Israeli occupation troops and some conurbations adjacent to Jerusalem would be in danger of attack.

Work has already started on a "security fence" along part of the Green Line between the West Bank and Israel through which suicide attackers slip into Israeli cities.

Barrier or border?

But the West Bank is not Gaza. Logistically sealing it off would be a much harder task, and separating it from Israel could have serious strategic and territorial implications.

Since it seized the West Bank 35 years ago, Israel has gone to great lengths to make it part of the Jewish state, despite United Nations resolutions outlawing "the acquisition of territory by war".

Israeli tanks roll into Jenin
The PM looks to Israel's military for answers
So a physical barrier around the territory - which could become a border for a future Palestinian state - risks undoing what Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and others have worked so hard to achieve for so many years, the annexation of Judea and Samaria as they call the territory.

At the same time Israel has been making good its threat of staging extended incursions and counter-insurgency operations across the West Bank.

The next - highly controversial - step could be to reoccupy Palestinian-controlled land and hang on to it until the violence stops. But such a move might provoke an outcry from an international community that has until now largely gone along with Israel's "right to defend itself" by measures previously employed.

There also appears to be a return to the earlier practice of launching retaliatory air raids on Palestinian targets, although Mr Sharon long ago abandoned it as an ineffective way of countering Palestinian attacks.

Unpopular choices

Always in the back of Mr Sharon's mind is the possibility of expelling Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat - his sworn enemy for the best part of four decades.

Yasser Arafat
Arafat: Sharon's enemy since the 1960s
Israel accuses Mr Arafat of allowing and encouraging suicide attacks to bludgeon concessions out of Israel in a way that he failed to do at the negotiating table during the peace process in the 1990s.

But it is difficult to see how a headless Palestinian Authority would serve Israel's security requirements - and many in Washington agree with that view.

The last option for the government might be to listen to Israel's peace camp, which - along with that in the Arab world - views the occupation and Jewish settlement activity as the root causes of Palestinian terrorism.

Such a view argues for accelerated negotiations to reach a permanent settlement that gives the Palestinians a viable state - but that is the path least likely to be taken by a hardliner like Mr Sharon.


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