Conventional wisdom is that the closer we get to the end of April when the peace
negotiations are supposed to reach agreement, the spoilers who are willing to
use violence to sabotage the process will become bolder and more Israelis and
Palestinians will pay with their lives. The analysts and military experts are
all speculating on whether or not we are already witnessing a new intifada. It
certainly feels like it with new attacks almost every day.
It seems only
natural to link the current violence to the peace talks. Certainly those who
fear an agreement the most, Israel’s right wing, the settlers, and Palestinian
Islamic fundamentalists have clear reasons to push their publics to attach the
rise in violence to the peace talks.
The recent report by Amos Harel in
Haaretz linking former prisoners from Hamas who were released in the Schalit
exchange to recent violence is also directly connected to the peace talks and to
Israel’s obligation to release the third batch of pre-Oslo Palestinian
prisoners, all convicted of killing Israelis.
The timing and the
bombastic nature of the report and the political spins around the article cannot
be ignored; a clear attempt by certain political individuals and certain people
in the Israel Security Agency to put pressure on the government not to implement
the third round of prisoner releases.
The bottom line remains that
despite all of the threats hundreds of Israelis would be killed, two years and
two months after the Schalit-deal prisoners were released, not one Israeli has
been killed or hurt by released prisoners.
The Haaretz report essentially
focused on two of more than 1,000 prisoners released who, from Gaza, are trying
to form terrorist cells in the West Bank – without much success.
, according to the report, foiled some 80 attempted terrorist attacks in the
past two years (this is a low level compared to many years in the past decade).
We need to be thankful that they are doing such a good job, but also realize
that that is why they exist. They are doing their job.
Perhaps the rise
of violence is not connected to the peace talks at all, but with something else.
Since the peace talks began, over 30 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have
been killed by Israel. There are over 5,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons
including some 200 minors and 15 women. Hundreds have been arrested since the
peace talks began in July. Tens are arrested almost every night throughout the
Since July, Israel has demolished over 200 Palestinian homes.
Since July Israel has announced plans to build over 6,000 new housing units in
the West Bank. Since July the Palestinian economy continues to deteriorate, the
Palestinian Authority is incapable of paying its bills to the private sector and
the financial horizon for most Palestinian young people is quite
Of course each side of the conflict only sees its own suffering
and its own casualties. Israelis do not live the daily lives of Palestinians.
They only see the increase in violence and fall easy prey to politicians who
want to continue to discredit and delegitimize the Palestinian leadership. They
are anxious to foil the peace talks and they thrive on creating more fear of
Palestinians and the possibility of Israeli withdrawals from the West
The Palestinians don’t see the Israeli fears and cannot understand
why the strong side in the conflict, the one with all of the power, responds
with so much force against the Palestinians. The Palestinians only see their own
pain and suffering and are incapable of seeing the Israeli side with the
constant threat of the renewal of terrorism.
Most of the acts of
Palestinian terrorism we’ve seen during past months have been individuals not
taking orders from someone or acting on someone’s or some organizations behalf.
These are acts of desperation, frustration, anger and a desire for revenge. The
recent bus bombing probably involved more than one person, but not necessarily –
we simply don’t know yet, but no organization or terrorist group has claimed
The shooting of an Israeli worker on the fence near Gaza
was not done, according to Palestinian sources, by any organization, but also by
What appears to be escalation of Palestinian violence
since July cannot be separated from what appears to be an escalation of Israeli
violence against Palestinians during the same time period. Nothing happens in a
vacuum. And none of this is in the interests of the Palestinians or of
It is important that both Israelis and Palestinians recognize,
articulate and behave according to the understanding that we both have an
interest that both sides enjoy security and peace, prosperity and hope. Israelis
have a keen interest in having happy neighbors. We must be interested in seeing
a successful prosperous Palestinian state. Palestinians should have an interest
in seeing a secure Israel that lives in peace with all of its neighbors and is
not a threat to anyone.
It is very difficult to change patterns of
interaction. It is extremely difficult to move from fear and animosity to
partnership and good neighborly relations. If we all want to see a decline in
violence, rather than escalation, it is essential that we begin to take
responsibility for changing the context of the daily interactions. What each
side says and what each side does effects how the other side responds – in words
and in deeds. It is called reciprocity. This is a concept that our prime
minister knows very well and it works in both directions.
The author is
the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and
Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator
of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book
Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora
Bitan in Hebrew and The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas from The