Another bloody cycle of attack and counter-attack has been unleashed in the Middle East between Israel and its Arab neighbors, but the violence must not be allowed to derail the already shaky and fragile peace talks. In fact, the violence is merely the latest example of why peace must be pursued, despite the seemingly heavy odds against it.

When Palestinian guerrillas hacked three sleeping Israeli soldiers to death in a nighttime raid last week, the Israeli response was predictable - massive military retaliation. Israel has always hit back harder and on a heavier scale than any original guerrilla attack. That policy is backed by both labor and right-wing parties.That the air strikes killed a top Shiite Muslim leader in Lebanon raised the level of anger and brought vows of revenge from Shiites. Rocket attacks have been launched from southern Lebanon against Israeli settlements. It wouldn't take much for the spiraling level of vengeance to undermine peace talks scheduled to resume in Washington next week.

An event even more potentially disruptive than the violence was the recent arrest by the Israeli army of two Palestinian delegates to the peace conference. The two are being held under "administrative detention," a catchall phrase that means the arrested persons can be held up to a year without any charges being filed.

That seems like a deliberate torpedoing of the peace talks. If the two delegates have committed crimes against Israel, they should be charged. But for the pair simply to be arrested and held without charges casts suspicion on Israel's motives.

There have been complaints in some quarters that Israel is not really interested in peace talks or trading land for peace. Instead, it is said Israel is merely stalling while more settlements are built in occupied lands and that it has no intention of giving up any of the occupied territories.

That seems extreme and unlikely, but there is cause for concern. If the cycle of mistrust and violence is to be broken, it must start somewhere. Arresting two Palestinian delegates is exactly the wrong thing to do if Israel is serious about peace talks.