When four civilians are killed and 50 are wounded in the heart of the city at the height of a cease-fire and the blood is boiling, the brain becomes feverish.
On the one hand, "security sources" explain that the Islamic Jihad sent the murderer to sabotage the new Abu Mazen government, and to foil its attempts to rehabilitate the political channel and increase security cooperation with Israel. On the other hand, the defense minister decides to punish the Palestinian Authority by freezing the transfer of security responsibility to them for cities in the West Bank.
There is an argument that external forces - like Syria and Iran - are responsible for fanning the flames, and that the PA "is not doing anything to eliminate the terrorist infrastructure." Has it not occurred to anyone that the reason the terror needs support from outside the PA is because public opinion back at home in the PA is tired of it? Is it so difficult to understand that the human and material resources of the PA's security apparatus, which was destroyed over the last four and a half years, cannot be rebuilt in barely four months? Even if there is something to the claim that the PA could do more to prevent terror attacks (see the sealing of the smuggling tunnels), what can be expected to strengthen it? Empowering the security and civilian apparatuses of the PA - or weakening them?
The terror attack on Friday in Tel Aviv is a critical test for Israel. It can be expected that in the coming months, until the July elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council, Abu Mazen's opponents will do everything they can to drag the Sharon government into retaliatory and punitive actions, to depict Abu Mazen's policies of reconciliation as hollow and empty. A mistake in judgment, such as a careless "assassination," could turn the democratization process under way in the PA into a boomerang. The anger, despair and desire for vengeance are the strongest cards in the hands of the Hamas candidates in the vital struggle for public support.
High marks in the elections test are a necessary - though not sufficient - test of Abu Mazen's success. The rest of what will really determine the longevity of his political career and his policies will come the day after the completion of the disengagement. That test has long since been prepared, in black and white, in the form of the United States' road map plan. Along with the campaign against terror, the Palestinian public will ask their leader what he is doing to ensure implementation of the article that stipulates that "the government of Israel takes no actions undermining trust, including deportations; attacks on civilians; confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property, as a punitive measure or to facilitate Israeli construction; destruction of Palestinian institutions and infrastructure; and other measures specified in the Tenet Work Plan." The following stage is described as the establishment of an "independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty - as a way station to a permanent status settlement."
In other words, the new Palestinian government will be tested by the number of acres the Israeli government will expropriate for the fence meant to separate the residents of Bethlehem from their brethren in East Jerusalem. The fence planned for Palestinian lands, and the expansion of Jewish settlements in the area, will prevent any possibility that the city will one day become the joint capital for both nations.
For Israel not to fail Abu Mazen and itself in this regard, the chief "author" of the test and its proctor, George W. Bush, must free himself of the idea of a "town-square test" that he found in Natan Sharansky's book. The former fighter for human rights sold the most powerful man in the world a hollow theory, according to which the test of democracy is the ability of a person to preach his views in the town square without any harm coming to him. A state that does not pass that test is a dictatorship and a hothouse of terror. As long as that "town-square test" is part of the president's "DNA and philosophy," as Bush has said, there is no chance that the Israelis and Palestinians will be able to pass the road map test.
True, the Palestinians have chosen a leader through democratic elections, and in their town squares there are sharp debates without politicians having to stand behind bullet-proof glass. There is no plaza on their side named for a political leader who was murdered because he tried to put an end to the bloodshed. But the Palestinians will not be able to pass that test for very long: If the progress toward a democracy is not accompanied by tangible, geographic steps, and anarchy reigns in the territories, they really will turn into a "hothouse of terror."