YES, IT WAS TERRIBLE -- the latest violence in the West Bank. Bombs maimed two Palestinian mayors; an Israeli soldier intending to defuse a bomb in a third mayor's car was blinded. Prime Minister Begin promptly deplored the actions, presumably the work of an ultranationalist Israeli political fraction that finds even Mr. Begin "soft" on Palestinians. He had good reason to protest. Israeli terror mocks the Israeli case against Palestinian terror. It nourishes hatred and violence. It curdles what faint prospect remains, if any, of Palestinian participation in the talks on Palestinian self-rule.
But that is not the whole of it. The terrorists were using unpardonable methods that the Israeli government has forsworn. When the government has acted arbitrarily, as it did, for instance, in expelling three West Bank leaders after the massacre of six Israelis in Hebron last month, it is called to account in Israeli public opinion and in the courts. When Meir Kahane threatened counter-terror against Arabs after the Hebron incident, the government preventively jailed the fanatical rabbi -- the first time a Jew had been so detained. It is in no way to suggest that Mr. Begin condones the awful actions to observe, however, that there is a particular place where his policy and the policy of the terrorists touch. They are both committed to suppressing Palestinian resistance to Israeli rule. There is a difference between ruling in the West Bank by official force and the occupier's law, and ruling by individual criminal terror. But it is a difference that means more to the occupier than to the occupied.
The meaning of this latest day of violence is plain: it is necessary to end Israeli rule over Palestinians in a way that satisfies Israeli security and Palestinian dignity. This is the purpose of the process set in motion at Camp David. Not even its most ardent admirers deny that it is a flawed process. But it is the only process currently available and none -- none -- of those who find it lacking can offer any alternative except their own pet recipes for certain stalemate. Mr. Begin insists Israel can fulfill its responsibilities to Camp David. Good. Let him or a chosen successor make an offer that will put the burden of moderation on the Palestinians, who, through the PLO, have just reaffirmed a commitment to erasing Israel as a state and to relying on force to do so. It is a heavy load that is on Camp David, but it was there before the latest bombs. They change nothing important.