Protest in Kafr Kana.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Over the last few weeks, a fascinating debate has been taking place in Israel between the Right and the Left, between politicians and security officials and among journalists over whether an intifada is taking place.
It’s best to know the facts before deciding. In Jerusalem alone this year there have been 274 attacks involving fire bombs, roadside bombs, shootings, stabbings, running people over with vehicles and throwing stones. If we examine the data regarding terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria, which the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) makes available to the public on its website, we discover that every month since the start of the year, in hundreds of attacks fire bombs have been thrown at innocent civilians, stones have been hurled at moving cars, pedestrians have been shot at and roadside bombs have been planted in public areas.
Over the last few weeks, there have been dozens of riots involving throwing stones and assaulting of police officers.
Palestinian Authority leaders, including Mahmoud Abbas, are increasingly making statements that incite the Palestinians to rise up against Israel. Israeli officials have no communication with their Palestinian counterparts, people with whom they were in contact for years during negotiations. There are more and more spontaneous attacks and a strong sense of déjà vu that reminds us of the period just before the second intifada broke out in late 2000.
So, has another intifada in broken out? The thing is, it doesn’t really matter.
The young Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem who are carrying out these attacks don’t care whether Israeli politicians or security officials, the police inspector-general or even renowned journalists believe this is another intifada or not. They’re not waiting for the prime minister to make an official declaration before they attack a policemen or a soldier. They’ve received plenty of encouragement from the Palestinian Authority and Hamas leadership. We’re living right in the midst of an intifada that expands and contracts in accordance with events on the ground. The level of incitement rises in direct relation to the frustration Arab residents feel. They feel encouraged when they see that the Israeli authorities have no real deterrence capabilities.
There are no shortcuts or quick fixes to solve this conflict. We must not delude ourselves into thinking that we might one day reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians in which both sides will feel satisfied. We must understand that neither side currently has a leader who is willing and capable of carrying out true negotiations that would satisfy his constituencies. Abbas is a weak leader. He has no charisma or determination and he’s slowly losing the scant popular support he still has as more and more Palestinians switch their loyalty to Hamas. Benjamin Netanyahu is also a weak, indecisive leader who comes from a political party that would never allow him to reach any type of settlement with the Palestinians.
In the absence of any political process or courageous leaders, it’s no longer relevant what we choose to call the current situation, one in which both sides are frustrated and unhappy.
The good news is that it’s not too late to fix things. We may not be able to change the past, but we can control what we do in the future. There are several steps we can take (and they must all be carried out simultaneously) if we want to improve our situation.
The first step is to have a genuine desire to hold effective talks aimed at leading toward a diplomatic agreement that would enable both communities to live comfortably. We could reach an agreement on a number of issues if both sides were to make minor compromises.
The second step is the creation and implementation of a long-term, comprehensive (and courageous) strategic plan regarding the future of Jerusalem.
Each side needs to mark its redlines, but also to explore issues that are out of its comfort zone. Israel needs to rethink the logic behind its rule of east Jerusalem neighborhoods, especially in light of the fact that the municipality is not currently investing in infrastructure there.
The third step is for Israel to increase its deterrent capabilities and to bolster its security forces. We need to understand that sometimes dangling a carrot is not enough and that the time has come to get the stick ready. Unfortunately, security forces’ actions are limited by laws, rulings and regulations.
Knowing that an internal investigation will take place after each incident prevents security forces from taking decisive action against violent rioters.
The fourth step is on the diplomatic level. Israeli ambassadors need to step up their efforts at the UN, especially in the Security Council, and in Israeli embassies worldwide so that we can put a stop to the incitement against Israel.
The fifth step is the enforcement of Israeli laws regarding the Temple Mount and activity in east Jerusalem. Israeli provocateurs must be prevented from acting in ways that are counterproductive to our cause. This is not an issue of Right vs Left. It is purely a matter of implementing government policy that is in the public’s best interest.
More than 1,500 years ago, the Roman author Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus wrote: “Let him who desires peace prepare for war.” And this is still true today.
We must desire to live in peace and make an effort to achieve it, but at the same time we must fight, create deterrence and have our military and intelligence branches prepared for the worst-case scenario. Unfortunately, Israel is not prepared for any of the above.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.