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Killing Hamas unlikely to work

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Last September, the mainstream Jerusalem Post shocked many people by editorializing in favor of assassinations. "We must kill as many of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders as possible, as quickly as possible . . . " the newspaper said, according to an Associated Press account.

Sadly, the government seems to have taken the advice.

Israel has plenty of legitimate reasons for killing Hamas' leaders. Hamas itself, at least its militant wing, exists to bring about the annihilation of the state of Israel and to reclaim the land solely for Arabs. At the time of the editorial, two suicide bombers had just succeeded in killing 15 Israelis. But the current Israeli strategy, which seems to be to kill the head of the organism and hope the rest of it will die, is not likely to work. It certainly isn't bringing the region any closer to peace.

Now that Abdel Aziz Rantisi is dead, less than a month after Sheik Ahmed Yassin was killed, Hamas has declined to reveal the name of its next leader. Hamas officials are in hiding. They have turned off their cell phones and abandoned their offices.

But they have not disappeared. Nor does their movement appear to be waning. Instead, there is talk of "100 unique retaliations" and vows of revenge. Much of this is hyperbole, but it expresses a real sense of outrage and helplessness that will be difficult to erase. So far, Hamas has been unable to mount any serious retaliations even for the assassination of Yassin. Israel has dropped a tight net of security around Palestinian regions. But that net cannot remain airtight forever.

The current cycle of violence can be traced to September of 2000, when Ariel Sharon made a provocative visit to the Haram esh-Sherif, known to Jews as the Temple Mount. Whether this was something deserving of the condemnation it received is open to debate. But since then, a steady stream of riots, suicide bombings and military strikes have plagued Israel. Each one seems designed to teach the other side a lesson.

The lessons, however, get lost as the corpses collect.

Yes, it would be nice if Palestinians adopted a democratically elected framework for a government — one that forced Yasser Arafat to be accountable and to obtain popular support. Yes, it would be nice to have a free Palestinian state operating side-by-side with Israel, as friendly as neighbors Jordan and Egypt.

That day is far off. Violence isn't bringing it any closer.