Today’s suicidal knife-wielding terror is not backed by any organization. Despite claims to the contrary, it lacks religious or political ideology. It is being waged spontaneously by young people sick and tired of living in a reality of humiliation and hopelessness.
They are supported by a wider Palestinian public who has come to believe that the only way left to end the Israeli occupation is armed struggle.
In order to understand what is happening we need to examine today’s violence in the wider context of the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Since the earliest days of Zionism, the Jewish people have struggled for the establishment and consolidation of a Jewish and democratic state in the spirit of the 1948 Declaration of Independence against hostile states and organizations seeking to destroy it.
Most Israelis would say that the struggle against the current wave of violence washing over Israel is part of this just war; that it is one more wave of many in an ongoing conflict that began over 130 years ago with the arrival of the first Zionist pioneers in 1882 after anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia.
In the eyes of the international community and its institutions, and certainly in the eyes of most people across the world, the struggle over Israel’s existence was and is a just war.
But what the world sees today on its TV screens is an Israel fighting a very different war, the aim of which is to extend its eastern border by building settlements and preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state. This war is seen as unjust because it violates the Palestinian right to self-determination, a fundamental diplomatic and legal principle on which the international order is built.
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This disparity in identifying the nature of Israel’s wars explains the US State Department Spokesman’s irrational claim (since retracted) that Israelis were using excessive force against the terrorists and is also the ostensible reason behind the demonstrations in Europe against Israeli defensive measures. Policemen in America and Europe kill civilians in the streets for far less – but not in the overarching context of what is perceived as an unjust war.
The current wave of violence came as no surprise. The writing was on the wall.
The fact that it erupted in united Jerusalem, a microcosm of a Jewish-Arab one-state reality, is incontrovertible proof of the endemically explosive nature of the binational state to which the current Israeli government is headed through its reactive “management of the conflict” policy.
A state of affairs in which more than 80 percent of Palestinians believe that they are likely to be harmed physically, that their land will be taken from them and their homes destroyed is the source of today’s violence. Any leader’s speech that tries to convince them otherwise will ring hollow.
What can be done to change their bleak view of reality? The question is aimed at the Israelis, the Palestinian leadership, the American administration, the countries of the region and the international community as a whole.
To help douse the violence in the short term, Israel needs to adopt a policy of restraint and self-control. Every additional Israeli or Palestinian casualty fans the flames and reinforces narratives based on fear and the sense on both sides that there is no way out.
A policy of restraint means flooding the streets with security personnel as a preemptive measure, killing terrorists who present a mortal danger, but refraining from acting against would-be assailants who no longer pose a threat.
But restraint will not be enough to bring about a change in the feelings of fear and hopelessness that permeate Palestinian society. The axiom that “we will have security when they have hope” is more relevant today than ever.
In a climate of absolute mutual distrust, only the restoration of hope on the Palestinian side through concrete actions on the ground could reverse the trend. Similarly, only by taking concrete steps to create a two-state reality on the ground, will Israelis be able to create conditions for the realization of the Zionist vision – a Jewish and democratic Israel in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence.
For the past 20 years, the road to changing reality went through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. But the exclusivity of the direct negotiations approach became a goal in itself, enabling opponents of the process to prevent the creation of the two-state reality it sought to achieve.
Therefore we need to add a parallel process, designed to create a two-state reality through independent and unconditional steps, irrespective of progress or lack thereof in negotiations.
In this way, Israel would act independently to realize the Zionist vision and in parallel Palestinian hopes would be restored when they see Israel taking steps to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state.
In the context of this policy of independent steps, Israel should declare that it has no aspirations for sovereignty east of the West Bank security barrier, and that future negotiations on an agreed border will be on the basis of the 1967 lines with land swaps.
In order to underline the genuineness of its intentions, Israel should stop construction east of the barrier altogether and the government should encourage the voluntary return of settlers from those isolated eastern settlements.
Until the achievement of a political solution, however, the IDF will remain in Judea and Samaria with overall responsibility for security.
This policy will also recognize the independent steps being taken by the Palestinians to be accepted as a state in the UN, and will urge acceleration of the diplomatic process between the two states, Israel and Palestine, on the basis of UN Resolutions and the Arab League Peace Initiative of 2002.
These steps by both sides will enable the continued confidence-building needed to reach agreement on the demarcation of a new agreed border. Moving forward in this way would also force the US to present its positions on the core issues in the form of “end of conflict” parameters, and create conditions for a conflict-ending UN Security Council debate and resolution.
If it follows this policy of parallel paths toward the creation of a two-state reality, Israel, if attacked, will again be perceived as fighting the just war for its existence as a Jewish and democratic state, alongside a Palestinian state.
On the other hand, if Israel fails to change its current policies, it will find itself moving further and further away from the Zionist vision and losing its identity as a Jewish and democratic state.
Beyond that, if Israel persists with current policies, its diplomatic isolation will intensify. International political and economic pressure to create a two-state reality that does not depend on leaders, negotiations or prior reconciliation between peoples, will mount. On the contrary, all these normally key factors will be seen as obstacles should they continue to delay the two-state process, thereby undermining regional stability.
The international community will find other ways to impose its will, independent of the capabilities or desires of incumbent political leaders and clearly less palatable for Israel than the conditions it could have created on its own.
I am optimistic, but my optimism is tinged with great pain and sadness. The wave of killing is a tragedy for all of us.
True, it makes crystal clear the fact that there is no other way besides the creation of a two-state reality. But the goal is not just to separate from the Palestinians, but to get there together, and, if possible, on good terms.
The day after, we will have to pick up the pieces of the shattered dreams of various segments of Israeli society, and together recalibrate our Zionism. We will have to go back to fundamental questions that have been suppressed for years – and ask ourselves what is it we want to make of ourselves and of this land? Admiral (res.) Ami Ayalon, a former director of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) and one of the founders of Blue White Future, a group advocating unilateral steps toward a two-state solution, is head of the National Security and Democracy program at the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute.
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