Such terrorism as the bomb that killed five Israelis on a bus near Tel Aviv Monday and disrupted Israel-PLO negotiations is a credible threat to Palestine, not to Israel.
It is ostensibly meant to show implacable resistance by Palestinian Arabs and their supporters elsewhere to Israel's existence. But Israel does exist and has existed since 1948. Israel is strong and self-confident. The terrorism that has killed 72 people in seven attacks over the last 15 months does not bring this into question.
Palestine, however, does not exist, has not existed as a self-governing independent entity ever but only as a British-governed League of Nations mandate, and can come into existence only from the negotiations in which Israel and the PLO are now engaged.
These negotiations were meant to achieve by yesterday an agreement on bringing Palestinian self-government and elections to a much larger population in the West Bank than now enjoys PLO rule in Gaza and Jericho. A desperate, presumably suicidal bombing attack sponsored and bragged of by the terrorist organization Hamas delayed that.
Hamas does not want Palestinians to have autonomy leading to statehood coexisting with Israel. Hamas is willing to fight Israel to the last unconsulted Palestinian. But most Palestinians want self-government and believe Israel is there to stay.
Small wonder Yasser Arafat said, "I condemn this completely. This terrorist activity is an attempt to sabotage the talks and the peace process." Small wonder his police arrested 30 Hamas activists in Gaza. Israel has been demanding that Mr. Arafat crack down on the Iranian-backed extremist organizations that would destroy him and the peace process and -- lately -- he has been doing it.
Hard as it is for Israelis to look for peace after such outrages, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is right to press ahead with the peace process. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is right to say that by calling it off, "we would in fact be listening to the voices of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad."
Hamas will try to strike again. It will try to kill more Israelis, because that is the only way to kill off the Palestine that the Oslo accord between Israel and the PLO envisions. Israel and the PLO must not let Hamas succeed.