The Fever Returns

The counterman at the snack-food shack called A Blast of a Kiosk spotted the ownerless valise next to the busy bus stop and called the police to report a suspicious object. While he was talking on the phone and simultaneously trying to shoo people away from the bag, the bomb went off, spraying the metal pellets that had been packed with the explosives.

The kiosk got its name after it was destroyed in an-early 1990s suicide bombing at the same spot, in front of the Jerusalem Convention Center, and then was rebuilt and defiantly reopened. That time, the owner was luckily late for work. This time, his brother-in-law, the vigilant counterman, sustained shrapnel wounds.

The blast on the grimy street was heard clearly more than two miles away by pedestrians in the gentrified German Colony. It took a moment to register what the sound meant. A Border Police jeep racing past the cafés helped jog memories. The bad old days were back, like malaria resurfacing after years of dormancy. For a second you don't recognize the fever; then you realize you've been waiting for it, that you can't actually believe it was ever gone.

This disbelief in a cure for the conflict is the achievement of the terrorists. It is also what makes them the unintentional allies of Israeli hard-liners, who likewise fear paying the necessary price to end the disease. Yet the one certain meaning of a bombing is that the infection will not go away by itself, that it must be treated immediately, that peacemaking is acutely needed.

On the radio, the reporters spoke in a familiar adrenaline staccato. The number of wounded rose from 20 to 24 to 31. Then it dropped by one, because the woman who'd been listed as critically injured was moved to the "dead" column. The reporters talked about good luck: The bomb weighed two kilos or less. It was outside, rather than inside the closed space of a bus. It only killed one person.

My daughter called from her army base to see if we were OK. The unspoken message was that in a season of terror, soldiers are safer than civilians. Her voice was strained. "I don't want it to be fifth grade again," she said. When she was in fifth grade, at the height of the Second Intifada, Palestinian suicide bombers were shredding themselves and Israeli civilians with unnerving frequency in Jerusalem buses, restaurants, and streets. The funny thing is that she never said anything about being scared when she was in fifth grade, or after. It took the fever's return to crack her stoicism.

It's been three years since a serious terror attack in Jerusalem. But less than two weeks ago, in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, a presumed terrorist stabbed and killed five members of one family, including an infant. Meanwhile, the spray of mortar fire and missiles from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip into southern Israel has resumed. A few hours before the Jerusalem bombing, two rockets hit the southern city of Beersheba. Again, luck: Only one man was lightly injured.

Actually, Wednesday's attack in Jerusalem and the Itamar stabbings are reminiscent less of the Second Intifada's powerful suicide bombings than of the 1980s and early 1990s. Back then, the weapons of intermittent terror were knives and small bombs left in random public places. One possible explanation: Extreme Palestinian groups want to return to violent struggle but have been so reduced by the joint efforts of Israeli and Palestinian Authority security agencies that they are using more primitive means. Indeed, the attacks could be the sporadic work of a few angry, isolated perpetrators, rather than of larger organizations. Or this might be the beginning of a new, terrible wave of coordinated attacks. Israelis are waiting, with anxious fatalism, to find out.

At first glance, a new round of terror would mean that the lessons of the recent Egyptian revolution have had no effect on the Israeli-Palestinian arena, that Palestinians frustrated with the lack of progress toward independence have ignored the potential impact of mass nonviolent action and reverted to the failed method of "armed struggle."

The reality is more complex. Last week, young activists, exploiting social media, initiated nonviolent protests -- in Palestinian cities, aimed at the Fatah government in the West Bank and Hamas regime in Gaza. They are demanding that the leaders end their feud and create a united front to seek independence. Indeed, one reading is that Hamas' military wing has resumed rocket fire into Israel precisely because it wants to foil the unity drive by accentuating the differences between the two movements. If Hamas is behind the Jerusalem bombing, that attack could have the same purpose. The old advocates of endless war do not want to step aside.

In the Israeli arena, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the rest of the right have exploited the latest violence to avoid peace efforts and their attendant territorial concessions. A major factor in the quiet of recent years is the effort by the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority in the West Bank to stop terror and pursue a political solution. Yet after the Itamar attack, Netanyahu blamed the PA for allowing incitement against Israel, and he retaliated by approving new construction in West Bank settlements. Netanyahu's strategy for avoiding a two-state solution is a variation on "When it don't rain, the roof don't leak, and when it do rain, I can't fix it nohow." When there's quiet, when terror seems to be a memory, Netanyahu can count on a large piece of the Israeli public assuming that the status quo is fine and diplomacy unnecessary. When bombs go off, Netanyahu and other rightist politicians loudly insist that peace is unachievable.

The reality is quite different. The PA's cooperation in stopping violence is intended to make a political solution possible. But as long as overall Israeli rule of the West Bank continues, as long as settlements continue to grow, the basic conditions of the conflict remain unresolved. The infection is still present. The extremists on the Palestinian side gain support in that situation. Terror attacks against civilians are immoral and inexcusable. But they are not proof that the disease of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is incurable. Rather, they show how desperately important it is to pursue the cure.

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