After a ‘relatively’ long period of ‘relative’ calm, the cycle of violence between Palestinians and Israelis erupted again. Contrary to the way it is portrayed in the media, the hostility did not start with Thursday’s bus bombing in west Jerusalem, but with Wednesday’s incursion by the Israeli army into Gaza city, that left 13 Palestinians dead. Hence, the Jerusalem bombing came as a surprise to no one; even casual observers could have anticipated it.

The bombing in Jerusalem came as an immediate retaliation to the Israeli attack in the Zaytoon quarter of Gaza city. The bomber, Munir Jaara, a resident of the Aida refugee camp, left a letter indicating that he carried out the bombing as retaliation for “[Israeli Prime Minister] Sharon’s massacre” in Gaza the day before. The unprovoked attack on Gaza city, claimed to be a militant hunt, left thirteen Palestinians dead; many of whom were civilian bystanders.

Jaara blew himself up on a bus in front of Sharon’s official residence.

Palestinians have been warning recently that Israeli Prime Minister may embark on a new military adventure in the Palestinian territories or neighboring countries to divert attention from the recent corruption and bribery scandal that has haunted him for several months, causing many calls for his resignation.

“We warn that the Israeli government may embark on a military aggression to offset the media coverage of [Prime Minister] Sharon’s involvement in the corruption scandal,” said Nabil Abu Rudaina, a political advisor to the Palestinian Authority on January 22nd.

It appears, however, that several reasons have lined up for Sharon to order such an operation into a Palestinian town. Along with the pressure put on Sharon over the corruption charges, he feared that a meeting between US delegation headed by White House envoy John Wolf, Egyptian delegation headed by head of intelligence Omar Suleiman, and representatives from different Palestinian factions in Gaza, at the time the invasion was carried out, may yield some results, namely a cease fire, or a Hudna as it is termed in Arabic.

A situation would further uncover Sharon’s failure to maintain ‘security’ with his hard-line war policies. Such mediations have been successful in securing two Hudnas last year that lasted for 56 and 26 days, until each came to an abrupt end after an Israeli army’s incursion into some Palestinian town, leaving scores dead, and many destroyed houses. Killing Palestinians in the street is guaranteed to make militant groups reject the idea of a cease fire, at least temporarily.

The first stage of a prisoner swap was completed yesterday between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah under a German mediation that lasted three years. This swap is largely viewed in the media, the Israeli in particular, as a defeat to Sharon’s government, as it finally acknowledged the weight the group has in the region’s military balance after decades of refusing to negotiate with it and regarding it as an outlaw “terrorist organization.”

With news of the swap dominating many of the media outlets, the Israeli government needed a more dramatic story to cover it; that being the death of Israelis, which is proven to be an outcome of the killing of Palestinians.

Timing, in a sense, played into the hands of Ariel Sharon. Since the Middle East conflict and its successive ‘peace processes’ were entirely left out of the president’s State of the Union address, Sharon got the hint: “Bush is more concerned with remaining in office after November than he is with Palestinian and Israeli blood being exhausted,” said Palestinian MP Abbas Zaki.

The Bush administration’s focus on the election campaign puts it in no position to attend to the Middle East, let alone the miserable failure of Bush’s “Roadmap” over the past several months. Sharon understood that with the US administration and media consumed with the election and campaigning talk, he is operating in the dark, his ideal environment.

After the Israeli attack on Gaza Wednesday, a Palestinian militant said he would “hit inside Israel, until the Israelis make Sharon regret this incursion.” A response came, whether it was the full or a partial response is to be seen over the next few days. The bombing in Jerusalem was an expected and desired (by Sharon) outcome of the Gaza incursion, and the emerging fact is Sharon will soon have as much Israeli blood on his hands as he does Palestinian.

Fayyad Sbaihat ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in chemical engineering.