Policemen washing blood off the pavement, which was covered with cucumbers, peaches and potatoes - that is how the central market of the Israeli town of Netanya looked like in the late hours of Sunday. A bloody terror act, yet another one over the passed few months, took place there several hours earlier. In late March, 29 Israelis died in an explosion of a bomb planted in the Netanya Park Hotel. This time, the death toll was not that striking - one man died at the scene, another two passed away on Monday in hospital, plus the suicide-bomber who blew himself up in the centre of the market place. Eyewitnesses say that he had come to the market by taxi, wearing Israeli military uniform. Later on, the People's Front for the Liberation of Palestine /PFLP/ claimed responsibility for the massacre in Netanya.
We learned about the Netanya tragedy in Jerusalem several minutes after we had left the office of former Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. Before the meeting, we and a couple of other Russian journalists walked around Eastern Jerusalem talking to Arabs in souvenir shops of the Old City and dined in the infamous Sbarro pizza hut. On August 9th 2001, an explosion went off there claiming 10 human lives. In there, we discussed the fact that it had been a while since Israel witnessed the last terror act and pondered on what a possible response would be if an explosion went off in yet another Israeli settlement.
The explosion was quick to go off. Benni Briskini, Benyamin Netanyahu's press advisor, who showed us to Netanyahu's office said that the Israeli secret services had prevented 22 terror acts over the past few days. But, they obviously failed to prevent the one in Netanya.
What will Israel do now? The previous terror act in Netanya resulted in the Operation Defensive Wall, which the Israeli Armed Forces carried out in Palestinian towns on the West Bank of the Jordan River. Where will Israeli tanks now head? To the Gaza Strip? Many sources report that this supposition is highly likely to come true. At any rate, many Israeli politicians and officers have been reiterating during the passed several weeks that it is the Gaza Strip where main "nests of terror" are concentrated. This refers to small workshops producing explosive agents and mortar shells, arms depots and, which is the most important thing, headquarters of radical Muslim groups, which have refused to stop their terror activities. The Israeli military command planned to deploy troops to Gaza following the May 8th explosion in a billiards club located in the Israeli town of Rishon Le Zion. But something stopped the Israelis at the very last moment. It is highly likely that it was the understanding that "a tour around Gaza" will not be a bed of roses.
Nevertheless, the Israelis are steadily resolute. It became clear to us at the meeting with Benyamin Netanyahu who is now becoming increasingly popular in Israel.
What to do now? Netanyahu gave us an unambiguous response - terrorism is to be destroyed by all means at disposal, including military ones. Israelis heard many times that there could be no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Netanyahu believes it is wrong. At present, it is the military who should be settling it. The former Premier also said that he no longer believed in the Norwegian agreements. To be more precise, he said, he never liked them, but promises he had given to his electors forced him to stick to "the spirit of Oslo." The Palestinians, primarily, Yasser Arafat, have now withdrawn from them and consequently, they no longer exist. That is why, Netanyahu believes, the creation of an independent Palestinian state is now out of the question and Yasser Arafat should be out of the game since his primary objective has remained unchanged since 1964 /the establishment of PFLP/ - the destruction of Israel.
Netanyahu emphasised that the Middle East could become peaceful again only provided that two conditions are observed, i.e. Palestinian right to self-determination and the Israeli right to security. He believes that at present, the way out is the creation of "security zones," which should be established not along the 1967 demarcation line, but on Palestinian territories. Israel should ensure its security.
Benyamin Netanyahu gains more and more authority in the country day by day. Many experts believe that the former Premier is now more popular than the active one - Ariel Sharon. Local observers think that it will be Sharon who will score a victory at primaries in their right-wing party of Likud. Probably, he will retake office as the Israeli Prime Minister. Israelis are now demanding that decisive steps be taken against terrorists, while many people are getting more and more annoyed with Sharon's "half-hearted measures." That means they will vote for Netanyahu whom they are already supporting.
Nowadays, almost no one either in Israel or in the Palestinian National Authority /PNA/ believes that this conflict will be resolved in the near future. People on both sides say that it will probably last for another two generations. Although it's all insane, agree the Israelis, on the edge of a nervous breakdown caused by repeating terror acts, and the Palestinians, in the state of despair because of continuing military operations in their towns. They also agree that there are no objective reasons why they cannot peacefully live together.