Has Israeli-Palestinian violence crossed the point of no return?
This accumulated anger, in a very asymmetric conflict, was another outbreak of violence waiting to happen
As much as the recent outburst of killing between Israelis and Palestinians over the last fortnight is tragic and saddening, it should not have surprised anyone. Unless one was on a visit to a different planet for some time, or in complete denial, one could and should have seen this brewing for a long while.
Unfortunately, many members of the Israeli political system, as much as ordinary Israelis, made a consciousness decision to live in their own cocoon. They have been deliberately ignoring the dire implications of the current political impasse, which fails to bring a fair and just end to their conflict with the Palestinians.
There has been a complete and utter denial of the growing frustration among many Palestinians, especially youth. The unbearable life of privilege and prosperity on one side of the Green Line since 1967, has been in stark contrast to life under occupation and oppression on the other.
This accumulated anger, in a very asymmetric conflict, was another outbreak of violence waiting to happen. Tensions surrounding Temple Mount have surely been a trigger, admittedly a very important one, for the violence we are currently witnessing. Nevertheless, we should not lose sight of the innumerable other issues at the heart of this bloody battle between the two people.
Needless to say, though probably it still needs to be said, understanding what is behind the recent surge of violence does not equate in any shape or form justifying it.
Loss of life
However, concentrating on the loss of lives among Jews and ignoring the loss of lives, in much higher numbers, among Palestinians also distorts understanding of the current situation. Looking at the profile of most of the Palestinian attackers, mainly using knifes, reveals that most of them are youth from East Jerusalem, with no affiliation to any recognised groups, or previously involvement with militancy. It is a spontaneous reaction to the hopelessness that has spread among Palestinian youth who saw their aspirations for self-determination dashed. Instead of being granted the opportunity of participating in building their own independent Palestinian state, they are witnessing the further expansion of Jewish settlements and outposts. They suffer from Jewish terrorism with little protection from the Israeli government. Their economic prospects are far from being promising, and they have consequently also lost trust in their own leadership to steer them to a better future.
This accumulated anger, in a very asymmetric conflict, was another outbreak of violence waiting to happenYossi Mekelberg
Much attention is paid to the stabbing of Israelis in the streets, but as much as it is dreadful and causes genuine angst among Jews in Israel, this is carried out by a handful of people. Obviously this, or harming a religious site sacred to Jews, is not the answer to their suffering, and regrettably results in more violence, bloodshed and harsh measures against the Palestinians in the occupied territories. The real manifestation of Palestinian anger is in the mass demonstrations, mainly in different parts of East Jerusalem.
To be sure, incitement by certain Palestinian political and religious vested interests contributed to the outbreak of the current round of violence. Even President Abbas, usually a source of moderation and level headedness, got carried away with his own rhetoric, especially regarding Israel’s apparent attempts to change the status quo on Temple Mount. He should have known that this delicate issue should be handled with the utmost caution. His exasperation with the current Israeli government is understandable. Nevertheless, the explosive situation requires extreme care, otherwise it might end in a full-blown Palestinian uprising—such a move could risk Abbas’ shaky position of leadership too.
Prime Minister Netanyahu for his part is out of sorts, relying on shallow and inflaming rhetoric, and devoid of constructive policies. He may not intend to change the praying arrangements on Temple Mount, but he has allowed a gradual increase in the number of Jews able to pray there, a departure from the agreed practice. He was also weak, hesitant and slow in ordering members of his own coalition to avoid their provocative visits to Temple Mount. He typically delays or avoids necessary decisions for domestic political consideration, resulting in dire consequences.
Understandably, the Israeli government is required to reassure its citizens of their personal safety and security. However, the measures it is taking are short term and will lead to more bloodshed, while also compromising a final status solution. A panicky Israeli government makes it permissible to shoot any Arab who seems to ‘behave suspiciously.’ Jewish citizens are encouraged to carry arms, ignoring the high likelihood that in the current atmosphere this may not necessarily result in stopping terrorist attacks, but could end in the killing of innocent people. For the more extreme among the Jewish society, such as the reportedly murderous members of Price Tag, this may serve as a licence to harm Palestinians.
One of the measures suggested by the Israeli security establishment, with increasing support from the Israeli government, could lead to the de-facto division of the city. In order to curb violence in Jerusalem and its spread to Jewish residential areas, the imposition of a curfew on East Jerusalem was suggested, as well as preventing its residents from crossing into the western side. Ironically, the present Israeli government, the most religious-nationalistic government in its history, is the one that might end in dividing Jerusalem. The only reason this division should occur, is as part of a peace agreement, which would bring an end to the conflict. Such a peace agreement could have recognised the mutual legitimate claims of Israelis and Palestinians as having a stake in a city that represents their religious heritage and national aspirations.
Yossi Mekelberg is an Associate Fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, where he is involved with projects and advisory work on conflict resolution, including Track II negotiations. He is also the Director of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program at Regent’s University in London, where he has taught since 1996. Previously, he was teaching at King’s College London and Tel Aviv University. Mekelberg’s fields of interest are international relations theory, international politics of the Middle East, human rights, and international relations and revolutions. He is a member of the London Committee of Human Rights Watch, serving on the Advocacy and Outreach committee. Mekelberg is a regular contributor to the international media on a wide range of international issues and you can find him on Twitter @YMekelberg.
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