A Palestinian man plowed his car into a group of Israeli soldiers at a bus stop today, then roared back several minutes later to do it again, injuring 12 Israelis. The second time, the soldiers and police who arrived on the scene shot and killed the driver.
The attack, at Nachshon Junction 30 miles west of Jerusalem, was the latest and most serious incident of Arab violence against Jews here since Prime Minister Ehud Barak took office July 6. In a sharp departure from Israeli policy of the past three years, Barak called the driver a criminal but stopped short of accusing Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority of complicity and did not threaten to suspend peace talks.
The Palestinians issued similarly mild comments, suggesting that neither side is willing to let violence derail the prospect of renewed progress on peacemaking.
Barak said the driver "is a criminal with extremist motives, and his action will just [strengthen] our determination to do whatever it will take to put an end to terror, and to do it in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority." By pledging continued cooperation with the Palestinians immediately after what appeared to be a terrorist attack, Barak broke with his predecessor, Binyamin Netanyahu.
The former premier, who often blamed Arafat for not doing enough to fight anti-Israeli terrorist groups operating from Palestinian-controlled territory, repeatedly threatened to suspend the peace process in response to terrorist attacks. He claimed credit for a sharp reduction in the death toll from those attacks during his administration, which he said was a direct result of his hard-line policy.
In his campaign for prime minister this spring, Barak also warned that terrorist attacks could derail peace talks with the Palestinians. But today, his remarks amounted to little more than a pro forma condemnation. And after making his brief public comment, he refused to take questions from reporters.
To reinforce the message, senior officials in Barak's new government said they believe the Palestinians have made sincere efforts to crack down on extremist groups, such as the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, an organization based in the Gaza Strip that has carried out a number of suicide bombing attacks on Israelis.
Conservative lawmakers once allied with Netanyahu chided the government's response to the attack. Uzi Landau, a senior Likud party member of parliament, told Israeli radio that it resulted from a "minor, almost nonexistent Israeli reaction" to other small-scale attacks of the previous two weeks. He warned of an escalation in violence.