The inevitable result of allowing a terrorist gangland to flourish happened on Sunday afternoon, when Oz Ben-Meir (15) and two young women, Kinneret Mandel (21) and Matat Adler (21), were indiscriminately gunned down while waiting for rides. The Palestinian media later described them as "settlers," thereby presumably rendering the cold-blooded murder of women and children justifiable.
It's the same justification offered last year for the ambush and point-blank execution of Tali Hatuel, her four small daughters and unborn son. Such drive-by atrocities are similarly extolled not just beyond the Green Line, but equally within it, as was the case two years ago when 7-year-old Noam Leibowitz was shot in the back-seat of her family's car on Highway 6, as were housewives sitting at a Hadera bus stop. There sadly have been too many of such murders for us to list.
It should be noted that the international media on the whole neither profiled or identified Sunday's victims, nor called the perpetrators terrorists. However, Israel's subsequent decision to restrict Palestinian traffic and re-activate checkpoints was accorded profuse attention.
This is distressingly deja vu. Israel has suspended contacts with the PA but these will be renewed as memory of the most recent murders fades. For a while Israel will toughen defensive measures but will inevitably reduce its vigilance and grant "humanitarian concessions" to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and its chief Mahmoud Abbas, regardless of the fact that those who proudly claimed credit for the latest bloodletting belong to his own Fatah organization.
Once Israel's guard is lowered, more carnage can only be expected. The only surprising aspect about Sunday's slaughter was that it didn't occur earlier.
The PA claims, without substantiation, to have foiled 17 terror plots. But there have been numerous attempts, which Israel fortunately managed to preempt via operations that only earned it vehement PA condemnation and international rebuke. However, with a number of roadblocks abandoned and Palestinian traffic unhindered, it was only a matter of time that luck would run out.
Still, Sunday's incident is particularly disheartening. Post-disengagement, we expected the rules of the game to change. True, not all of us believed they would, but all Israelis sincerely hoped for change. Indeed , we were given every reason to view this as the unequivocal wish of the US and the rest of the international community.
Instead we seem to be replaying the old game. Again conventional wisdom is that Abbas, like his predecessor Arafat, mustn't be dealt with too harshly, and mustn't be too persistently requested to live up to his undertakings, lest he be thereby weakened. Should he be weakened, there would be no one to combat terror in the PA. The convoluted bottom line is that for the PA to fight terror it must be "strengthened," but expecting the PA to do so "weakens" it.
This will essentially be the message that Abbas brings to Washington; the question is what response will he receive. We suggest that it is time that he start getting the sense that sob stories about his weakness will not continue to bring endless floods of financial and diplomatic support.
It should be clear by now that Abbas is loath to use force to disarm and dismantle terrorist organizations, including those within his own Fatah. But just as it is na ve to believe that groups like Hamas can be talked into disarming, it is na ve to expect Abbas to do more than talk unless he is forced to do so.
More lives, both Israeli and Palestinian, will continue to be lost until Abbas has no choice but to take the admittedly difficult steps he has been avoiding to date. The United States and Europe, by threatening to withhold their financial assistance, have the power to insist that the old excuses are no longer acceptable.