President Isaac Herzog called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to convey his greetings for Eid al-Adha. Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant also spoke with Minister of Civil Affairs in the Palestinian Authority, Hussein Al-Sheik. Gallant also wished Al-Sheik a happy Eid al-Adha, and “conveyed his wishes that the holiday will serve as an opportunity to strengthen security and stability in the region,” Gallant’s office said.
The two calls represent important attempts by Israel to reach out to Israel prior to the Muslim holiday. It comes as millions of Muslims are in Saudi Arabia or heading to the country for the Hajj. Israel has found itself facing increasing threats from the northern West Bank, particularly Jenin, and clashes between Israel and local gunmen have become frequent. In addition there have been increasing terror attacks.
Both the calls by Israel’s officials stressed the need to defeat terrorism. Herzog spoke about “a forceful, persistent war against terror, incitement and hatred and he underscored the horrendous price and pain which terror inflicts upon bereaved families and Israeli society as a whole,” according to a statement. He spoke about the importance of living side-by-side in peace in the Middle East. “The President further underlined his unequivocal denouncement of the recent assault on innocent Palestinians by extremists,” the statement said.
Gallant also stressed that Israel’s security forces will operate against terrorism wherever this may be required, and conveyed a message to the Palestinian Authority regarding the need for immediate and decisive action against terrorism, his office noted. He also noted the recent attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank.
The statements are symbolic and the question is whether these high level calls will percolate down to the local level. There is a larger regional picture as well. While there has been increasing violence in the West Bank, as well as increasing gun violence among criminal groups in many parts of Israel; the trend in the rest of the region has been toward more peace and diplomacy.This is an interesting development because the rest of the region was generally threatened by instability, civil war and chaos during the era after the 2011 Arab Spring. The larger arc of history is clear; the region suffered a huge flood of wars and extremism since the 1980s. Israel, by contrast had appeared to defeat the worst waves of terrorism after the Second Intifada, 2 decades ago; and it had defeated conventional enemies as well.
Iran's threats coming from within Israel
Today Israel faces numerous threats, whether it is Iran’s nuclear program, hypersonic missiles, drones, militias in Iraq and Syria; Hezbollah, Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Iran would like to “unify” these fronts and Israel also sees this as a kind of “octopus” of Iranian threats. Meanwhile in the region Iran is now doing diplomatic outreach to the Gulf and the Iranian-backed Syrian regime has returned to the Arab League.
Taken together then the phone calls are symbolic. They come at a time when there is consistent talk about whether Saudi Arabia could one day normalize with Israel; and as the Abraham Accords continue to pave the way for more, albeit incrementally, progress towards stronger ties. The Eid holiday presents an opportunity for coexistence. Israel’s embassy in Senegal, for instance, gives sheep to the poor during the holiday.There are many examples of coexistence, but there is a lot more that can be done. High level phone calls are important, but people-to-people connections are the bedrock of bringing peace during these times. Security coordination, pragmatic coordination that serve the interests of Israel and the Palestinians, can pay dividends, but the increasing threats from Jenin illustrate that much works remains to be done.