Slim chance of peace

The ongoing violence only emphasizes that a comprehensive peace deal or even the renewal of negotiations is becoming more and more distant.

Israeli soldiers gather around the body of a Palestinian man who was shot dead after stabbing and wounding a soldier at the entrance to Hebron (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Israeli soldiers gather around the body of a Palestinian man who was shot dead after stabbing and wounding a soldier at the entrance to Hebron
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
There are two important factors preventing the current wave of Palestinian terror against Israel from spreading out of control.
One is the fact that the Palestinian Authority’s security forces continue, albeit reluctantly, to cooperate with their Israeli counterparts – the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the Israel Defense Forces.
Despite anger at the deaths of young people, the PA security forces remain loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas and have so far obeyed his order not to participate in the violence, contrary to the cases under Yasser Arafat during the second intifada from 2000- 2004.
No less importantly, the PA forces continue to disrupt Hamas’s efforts to fuel the violence in the West Bank. Hamas, which rules Gaza, is constantly trying to make inroads into the West Bank. And on that front Israel and the PA share the same interest – to weaken Hamas. Thus meetings and coordination between the Israeli military and Shin Bet officials with their Palestinian colleagues continue on a regular basis.
The second factor that helps maintain relative calm is the fact that, despite the ongoing violence, early every morning some 100,000 Palestinians go to work either in Israel or in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Herein lies the irony: The Palestinians oppose the expansion of Jewish settlements but serve as the workforce building its houses.
Palestinians working in Israel and in West Bank settlements are a vital source of revenue for the flagging Palestinian economy.
Yet the IDF and Shin Bet estimate the wave of terrorism, which is mainly, but not solely, characterized by the use of “cold weapons” such as knives is still very much alive, and they don’t know when it is likely to die down, if at all.
This estimate was conveyed in briefings to the Cabinet at the end of October and to the media after the regional and international effort led by US Secretary of State John Kerry to defuse the tension surrounding the Temple Mount, which is widely accepted by experts to be one of the triggers of the current round of violence.
That round is now entering its second month with October 1 considered by the IDF, Shin Bet and the media as the start date of the latest Palestinian uprising.
So far 10 Israelis – soldiers and civilians – and one foreign worker from Eritrea have been killed and nearly 150 wounded on four fronts: Jerusalem, Gaza, the West Bank and Israel inside the Green Line. On the Palestinian side some 50 people have been killed, around half of them assailants, and about 500 injured. The second intifada resulted in the deaths of some 1,000 Israelis and 4,500 Palestinians during a four-year period.
To put the latest figures in a broader perspective, it should be noted that during the last month 25 Israelis were killed in road accidents.
But the terror attacks are what gain most of the media and public attention at home and abroad.
What distinguishes the October 2015 Palestinian uprising from its two predecessors is the use of language by the Israeli side. This time a new, useful and powerful word entered the Israeli discourse – the word “to neutralize.”
According to Webster’s dictionary it means “to stop [someone or something] from being effective or harmful.”
Nowadays it is used in the context of terrorist attacks by Palestinians against Israeli soldiers, police officers and civilians. The word originated in the military lexicon, which has a tendency toward acronyms and words that can obscure and confuse their true meaning.
In the past, the language was very clear and precise. When a terrorist was killed or wounded it was clearly stated as so in official IDF and police announcements. Now they prefer to use the ambiguous term of “neutralizing” without revealing what really happened to the attacker. Was he killed? Was he wounded? Lightly? Seriously? From security apparatus jargon the word traveled a short way and was gladly welcomed by the Israeli media and the public at large. Using the term to neutralize instead of a more precise description helps the state, with the assistance of the media, to dehumanize the other, the enemy, the terrorists, and to forestall any questions that should have been asked.
Questions such as was it really necessary to kill the terrorist in order to overpower him? Are the security forces actually circumventing their own rules of fire and engagement? Does the use of the new language – a sort of a doublespeak, saying one thing but referring to something else – perhaps encourage and incite Israelis to kill and lynch terrorists, without bothering to go through the legal motions? The new language – magnified by the social media and even mainstream media that show real-time graphic pictures of blood and bodies – creates and at the same time reflects the public mood, characterized by an atmosphere of fear. This causes security forces and civilians alike to be quick on the trigger.
Because of the presence of modern technology – security cameras and cellular phones at the scenes of crimes – many of the incidents have been filmed and recorded.
Of the dead so far on the Israeli side, two people were killed and several injured by “friendly” fire after being mistaken for terrorists.
On several occasions, an inflamed mob tried to lynch wounded terrorists or suspects, including an Eritrean migrant who was beaten by the mob after being shot several times by a security guard. An autopsy found that he had died of the gunshot wounds and not as a result of the beating.
During this period there was another incident not related to terrorism in which a police officer shot to death a civilian who was involved in a fist fight with his neighbor. The modus operandi of the security forces on the terror front is spilling over into the civilian criminal arena.
Israeli and Palestinian experts still struggle how to define the new wave of terror. There are certain undisputed facts. The perpetrators of these acts of violence are mostly very young – the youngest of them only 13. Their weapons of choice are mostly knives, cars used in deliberate hit-and-run road incidents, rocks and stones, firebombs and pipebombs.
The use of firearms has been rare.
It is also widely accepted that the terror attacks began in Jerusalem or by Palestinian residents of the city. It is relatively easy to understand and explain why. Since Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, the city’s Palestinian residents have carried Israeli IDs and are entitled to take up Israeli citizenship, although relatively few have elected to do so. With Israeli IDs, it is easier for them to move freely and avoid road blocks, which are a permanent feature of the daily life of Palestinians on the West Bank. From the security services point of view, the October uprising is a nightmare. The perpetrators are usually individuals with no organizational association. They just wake up in the morning and decide to commit their acts of terror without usually receiving orders or informing anyone in advance. Most of the perpetrators have no past record of involvement in acts of terror or in protests against the Israeli occupation. In these circumstances it is very difficult for the Shin Bet, as it has done in the past, to plant or recruit agents or to hack in to phones, faxes and computers. Thus it is almost impossible to prevent the attacks.
Even if the burning issue of the Temple Mount is somehow resolved or taken off the public agenda, other fundamental problems that fuel the new violence are not going to go.
These include on the Israeli side the continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, supplemented by the confiscation of Palestinian land and water resources; the unpunished harassment of Palestinians at the hands of Jewish settlers; the unsolved terror attack of the Dawabsheh family by Jewish criminals, despite the astonishing recent revelation by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon that ‘we know who the terrorists were but can’t arrest them”; the refusal of the Netanyahu government to make substantial territorial concessions; Israel’s refusal to divide Jerusalem and allow the Arab eastern section to become part of a future Palestinian state; Netanyahu’s zigzag on his acceptance of a “two state solution”; Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish State”; the continued economic exploitation of the Palestinian workforce and economy; the lack of basic municipal services in Arab East Jerusalem.
The Palestinian obstacles to peace are their refusal to abandon the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their land and property in Israel; their insistence that Israel must return most of the West Bank and dismantle all the Jewish settlements including the relatively big urban areas; the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people; the inability of the Palestinian Authority to impose its authority on Hamas and act as the sole representative of the Palestinian people.
A comprehensive peace deal or even the renewal of negotiations is becoming more and more distant. It seems that the violence – terror attacks and counter attacks – will continue for the foreseeable future with various degrees of intensity. The question whether the Palestinian discontent will slide into a full-scale third intifada depends on whether Fatah and its militant offshoots, such as the Tanzim movement, which comprise the backbone of the Palestinian Authority, will join the struggle and use weapons.
The chance of peace appears slim and almost nonexistent.
Yossi Melman is an Israeli security commentator and co-author of ‘Spies Against Armageddon.’ He blogs at and tweets at yossi_ melman