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Antiterrorist policy and Batasuna

Recent arrests convey a message that there will be no negotiation with ETA terrorists

Between the arrest in Bilbao of four ETA activists in possession of 200 kilos of explosives, and the roundup in France of what appears to be part of the leadership of ETA, the prime minister stated that the abertzale (Basque separatist left) party Batasuna, outlawed some years ago due to its links with ETA, will not be legal until the terrorist group disappears.

Then he added a qualification: "It will have a hard time as long as ETA is alive." This a political opinion, not a legal one. The legalization of Batasuna, under its new name Sortu ? enabling it to run candidates in upcoming elections ? does not necessarily depend on this factor, though the courts may take it into account. But politically, it is relevant. The message is that, in so far as it is concerned, the government will do nothing to favor such legalization as long as ETA has not been dissolved. For example, it will do nothing in the area of lenient penitentiary treatment, as Batasuna now seems to expect, in saying that the phase of unilateral moves is over, and that henceforth such moves must be made by the government in search of a "democratic agreement to solve the conflict."

One result of the existing antiterrorist policy (police pressure, outlawing of abertzale parties, refusal to negotiate) is the abertzale left's present need to go ever further than it had planned in its rejection of ETA. After having refused to say anything about the capture of the group recently arrested in Bilbao, Sortu has found itself obliged to rectify, and make a public statement about apparent plans such as that to assassinate the lehendakari (Basque regional premier) Patxi López, even as ETA was speaking of a truce.

The abertzale left is attempting to convince Spanish public opinion, and the government, that it has really changed. But it seems clear that the government is also interested in convincing Batasuna that government strategy is not going to change: that there will be no negotiation to formalize political changes or other concessions; that since the 2006 bombing at Madrid's Barajas airport there will be no recurrence of situations in which hard-line public statements by the government were compatible with under-the counter negotiations and agreements. Zapatero and Rubalcaba seem to have opted to avoid any gesture that might be interpreted as availability for such dialogue, so that Batasuna will understand that there is nothing doing as long as ETA exists.

What the abertzale left has to prove before the Supreme Court is that it has ceased to be "the instrument of a terrorist strategy;" and though we have seen a certain distancing (which must not be underestimated, in view of how ETA has traditionally reacted to dissidents in its midst), the present strategy of Batasuna maintains an essential thread of continuity with the strategy it has long shared with ETA: the attempt to use the presence of the terrorist group, though only in the state of a latent threat, as a means of pressure to obtain a central role in negotiation, and a political influence greater than that given by its votes. This expectation (legality with ETA present) hobbles the steps yet to be taken by Batasuna; hence the government's interest in underlining the fact that it is not viable.

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