Can Israel, Arafat stop Hamas terrorism: Peres should quit

Shimon Peres has devoted his entire adult life to the service and security of Israel.

He played a major role in obtaining the weapons that enabled victory in Israel's 1948 War of Independence. In the mid-'50s, he was the key figure in the diplomatic breakthrough with France that enabled a poorly armed Israel to stand up to its Soviet-armed Arab enemies.

And Peres is identified with the creation of Israel's nuclear arsenal, which has proved Israel's major bulwark against military threats over the last 30 years of conflict.

But the greatest service that this supreme patriot could do for his country today would be to tender his resignation as prime minister and minister of defense, and to retire from active politics.

On Sunday of last week, in the wake of the third terrorist outrage in seven days (and a day before the Tel-Aviv bombing) Peres tried to persuade us that he has made a 180-degree turn away from his previous "peace" policy.

But it just won't wash — not with the Israeli public, nor with Palestinian Council president Yasser Arafat.

Peres declared that he would give top priority to Israelis' personal security, that he would permit nothing to stand in the way of quashing Hamas and other Islamic terror groups.

He made similar statements following the Feb. 25 bus bombings in Jerusalem and Ashkelon, but Palestinians continued to stream into Jerusalem through the sieve of the "closure" Peres decreed after the first attacks.

There is ample reason to question the ability of any sincere political leader to make the sort of about-face Peres would have us believe he has made.

And what about Peres' belated adoption of the internal security minister's proposals for far-going physical separation from the Palestinians? Peres, after all, led the successful political struggle to quash those very proposals during the past year.

More than any other political leader, he has been identified with the underlying premises of the Oslo peace process.

These were predicated on the assertion that Arafat and a large part of the Palestinian population represented by his Fatah organization have decided to make peace with Israel; and on the belief that Arafat and his terrorists-turned-policemen would quash the remaining Palestinian opponents of peace and end their terror strikes against Israel.

In contrast to many Israelis who are hungry for real peace and an end to a century of armed conflict with Arabs and Palestinians, who were ready to test these assumptions with great care, Peres committed himself totally to their validity.

During the Oslo process, which he engineered and into which he dragged an initially reluctant Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Peres led the Labor government doves in gutting the few safeguards and reservations Rabin had insisted on inserting into the accords with the Palestinians.

Peres was wrong all down the line. He admitted as much in his press conference following Sunday's Jerusalem bus bombing. But carrying out the anti-terrorist program he delineated will require a degree of public confidence no leader with his record can hope to mobilize.

Worse than that, the only hope of a successful anti-terror campaign involves returning Israeli forces to the territories under Palestinian autonomy, and resorting to punitive measures against sectors of the Palestinian population who abet and support Hamas.

This can be done without eliminating the prospects for far-going separation between the two peoples, but only if the right message is sent to Arafat and the pragmatic Palestinian leadership around him.

And the only effective signal of that sort would be Peres' resignation, which would carry the clear message that Israel rejects the policies hitherto espoused by the current prime minister, together with the mistaken assumptions on which they were predicated.

It is simply not credible to argue that a "repentant" Peres can dissociate himself from his own policies and deepest beliefs.