Paul Greenberg

If things have to get worse in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before they get better, then things must be about to get much better because they're definitely getting much worse.

If that doesn't make any sense, neither does the Mideast.

Why do things have to get worse before they get better? Because by now only a civil war may produce a single, accountable Palestinian government - and a single army subject to its control.

Half a century ago, the newborn state of Israel saw a brief civil war between its largest militias, David Ben-Gurion's Haganah and Menachem Begin's Irgun. As a result, a single Israeli army came into being, subject to a single Israeli government that could speak to the world with one voice. And negotiate with authority. And be held responsible for its actions.

Right now, neither of the major factions in this always a-borning, never born Palestinian state seems able to take responsibility - either for terrorist attacks or peace negotiations. Smaller, more radical militias - like Islamic Jihad - tend to be blamed for the worst atrocities, and all the talk of peace is immediately canceled by talk of "resistance," i.e., continued assaults on Israelis. Thinking of nothing but vengeance for half a century or more can poison the mind of a whole people.

Nor is there any guarantee that a civil war among the various Palestinian factions/authorities/gangs would be brief or decisive. The chaos, and power struggle, could continue indefinitely. As one observer asked, will this be the first

coup d'etat to occur before the etat?

The violence in Gaza threatens to spread into Israel with every rocket attack across the border. Now that Israel's fence has reduced the number of suicide bombings within the Jewish state, rockets have become the terrorists' preferred weapon. They continue to fall on the Israeli border town of Sderot, and the Israelis respond with artillery barrages and air strikes that inevitably kill and maim innocent civilians - as Americans well know.

The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was supposed to ease matters, and it has done that, for there are no longer any Israeli settlements there to attack. But the settlers who fought the withdrawal warned that the Palestinians would simply elevate their sights and, instead of attacking the settlements in the Gaza Strip, begin striking at Israel itself. Which is what's happening: The townspeople of Sderot have taken the settlers' place as targets.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.