Nothing is more to be despised, in a time of crisis, than the affectation of "evenhandedness." But there are two very nasty delusions and euphemisms gaining ground at present. The first of these is that suicide bombing is a response to despair, and the second is that Sharon’s policy is a riposte to suicide bombing.
On my very first visit to the unholy land, in September 1976, I went to pay a call on Uri Avnery in his Tel Aviv apartment. I still have the notes of my conversation with this brave writer and human-rights campaigner–one of the most staunch and intelligent veterans of the peace camp–and I blew the dust off the notebook a few days ago. Here it all was: the warnings and the predictions. The Gush Emunim settlers, religious rightists who had just begun to colonize the West Bank in earnest, were hoping to create a permanent occupation. A certain General Sharon was already turning up at their meetings and looking for a political opening. Meanwhile, Yasir Arafat was refusing to repudiate the Palestinian "covenant," which more or less called for the expulsion of all Jews who arrived in Palestine after the 1917 Balfour Declaration. There were "rejectionists" on both sides, but Begin and Sharon were still on the fringes, and it was conceivable that peace would consist of two states, with both sides renouncing their maximum irredentist positions and–this had a special importance–being willing to confront their own fanatics. Avnery mentioned his friendship with Said Hammami, a Palestinian internationalist then representing the PLO in London and ready to discuss mutual recognition. I knew and admired Hammami myself; he was murdered by the Abu Nidal gang not long afterward.
One weeps to think of what might still have been accomplished then if the United States had been willing to act on a two-state solution. Yet Washington took the same line on Palestinian statehood that St. Augustine took on chastity: It was something to be desired eventually, but not quite yet. It still does, dumbly and unbelievably, take that same line, as if the West Bank was the one place in the world where a superpower’s writ does not run.
None of this recognition of our own responsibility can be wasted on rationalizations of the suicide bombers and the Palestinian organizations that sponsor them. The self-murder of preprogrammed individuals who have the massacre of civilians as their aim is not just disgusting in itself. It expresses very clearly the absolutism of the ideology that exalts it; a depraved religious mentality combined with a rigidly exclusive ethnonationalism. If it took only "despair" there would or could be millions of Palestinians doing it, and doing it furthermore (since the "risk" is hardly greater) at least against "military targets." But the immolation of an old people’s Passover dinner, in the territories that are supposedly recognized as Israeli, requires more than a blank lack of discrimination. It requires planning.