Attacks in Hebron.

At dusk today, terrorists shot and killed four Israelis on the main West Bank highway south of Hebron. News reports identified the victims as residents of the nearby Israeli settlements of Beit Hagai and Kiryat Arba. Hamas -- the ultra-nationalist Islamicist group locked in conflict with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority -- quickly took responsibility for the attack. The Hebron area is known as a Hamas stronghold, and Hamas bitterly opposes the direct peace talks between Israel and the PA that are scheduled to resume in Washington on Thursday.

The logic behind the murders is obvious: As has happened many times before, extremists want to stop diplomacy by igniting a new cycle of attack, crackdowns, rage, and more terror. In this case, the killers seek to discredit the Palestinian Authority and its efforts to prevent violence. Most Israelis and Palestinians already appear pessimistic about the talks, but hard-liners are desperately afraid that the negotiations might just bring compromise and a peace agreement. If the Israeli public can be convinced that the PA is either soft on terror or complicit in it, the fragile foundation for negotiations will crumble.

While the killers likely came from one of the nearby towns under PA control, the Israeli army is responsible for security on the road where the shooting took place. The murders on the Hebron highway represent a joint Israeli-PA security failure. The way to deny the terrorists a larger political victory is to move ahead with the negotiations, without a round of recriminations between Israel and the PA, without delays.

-- Gershom Gorenberg

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