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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bombs Push Mideast Blood Feud to Fever Pitch

WASHINGTON -- With four suicide-bomb attacks in nine days, Palestinian extremists have succeeded in blowing up the quid pro quo that is the cornerstone of the Middle East peace process: Israel gets better security for its citizens and the opportunity to become a normal, stable and prosperous society in return for granting Palestinians control over their own lives and territory.

This simple formula was a historic breakthrough for two peoples who had been locked in a 100-year-long blood feud over a small, arid, resource-starved strip of rock and sand that each side claimed exclusively. Now the formula lies shattered alongside Israel's self-confidence. When the bombs go off, the first question everyone in Israel asks is: Where is my family? When a parent has to fear for the safety of children in the heart of Israel's largest city, everything else becomes irrelevant.

The peace process has helped give Israelis the prosperity and stability to build the kind of post-industrial, consumer-oriented society -- complete with Burger Kings, Tower Records shops and Honda dealerships -- that Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Center epitomizes. For five years, Israelis have enjoyed steady economic growth and a gathering sense of normalcy as trade barriers to them have fallen and more and more countries have extended diplomatic recognition.

With the end of the Cold War, the surrounding Arab states lost their main source of military support -- the Soviet bloc -- and have been forced to the negotiating table. The process has been slow and often painful, and many Israelis have harbored doubts. But most had come to accept it as irreversible, and polls showed they were prepared to back Prime Minister Shimon Peres and his Labor Party-led government in national elections scheduled for May.

But a soaring standard of living and the pageantry of treaty-signing ceremonies become meaningless when people do not feel safe.

"The crazy bottom line is things are much better than they've ever been," said Levi Weiman-Kelman, an American-born rabbi who lives in Jerusalem.

"National security is better than ever; we have peace with our neighbors and even with most Palestinians. But our personal security is totally gone," he added.

Israel has fought five full-scale wars in its 48-year history and has struggled for decades to combat terrorist attacks. But it has not faced this kind of sustained, internal assault on civilians since pre-independence days, when Jewish guerrillas fought both British rule and Arab nationalists. The bombs of the past nine days have traumatized Israel in a way that previous attacks never seemed to. Part of it is timing; the bombs come four months after the assassination by a Jewish gunman of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, the former war hero and Zionist patriarch who had guided Israel through the turbulent peace process with calloused but reassuring hands. And they come just as Peres -- Rabin's successor and partner in negotiating peace with Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization -- was launching a reelection campaign in which he hoped for a mandate to finish the process.

"We're not only burying 70 people, we could also be burying Shimon Peres's vision of a new Middle East and Yasser Arafat's Palestinian state and the chances for a new Labor government," said Harry Wall, director of the Jerusalem office of the Anti-Defamation League.

Peres has pledged "war in every sense of the word'' against terrorists. That could mean a return to the cruel punishments of the old blood feud: the pre-dawn raids, assassinations, house demolitions, and physical "pressure'' against prisoners that were regular features of Israeli military operations against Palestinian militants during nearly three decades of contentious occupation.

It also means treating Palestinian-controlled territory in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as another Lebanon -- zones that Israeli forces enter and operate in with impunity, even if it further destabilizes Arafat's shaky rule. Those kinds of factors no longer matter, said Wall. "People want blood and vengeance, and now they'll get it."