It was a near repeat of events and circumstances. And it wasn’t surprising.
Late last month, as representatives from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan and the US gathered in the Jordanian Red Sea resort town of Aqaba for a regional meeting aimed at finding common ground to reduce tensions ahead of Ramadan, Palestinian terrorists were demonstrating that they are the ones who actually control the timing and tone of all things related to calm and tension.
Hallel Yaniv, 21, and Yagel Yaniv, 19, from Har Bracha in the northern West Bank, were ambushed and murdered in a terror attack as they drove through the nearby Palestinian town of Huwara.
On Sunday, three weeks later, a similar configuration of diplomats gathered in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for the continuation of the talks, as the beginning of Ramadan later this week gets closer.
Back almost in the same place as last month’s attack, a terrorist shot a couple in their car, seriously wounding the driver, David Stern, a dual Israeli-American citizen. After being shot, Stern shot and wounded his attacker. A soldier at the scene also shot the gunman, who fled but was quickly apprehended by Israeli forces.
The two incidents present a grim reality that no matter how much the players in the region are concerned about the security situation and are serious about cooperating to create an atmosphere to remove the matches from the tinderbox, it can be lit in a second by those who reject any possibility at resolution of the conflict other than by terrorism.
And apparently, they have considerable support. According to a poll of Palestinians conducted between the two terror attacks, by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR), 71% of respondents said they supported the shooting of the Yaniv brothers in Huwara, while 21% expressed opposition to this and similar armed attacks.
That’s also a grim reality to face when you are, like Israel is, tasked with trying to maintain calm for the major Muslim holiday month of Ramadan in which thousands of worshipers will be converging on the Temple Mount.
No matter what restrictions are lifted or measures taken, all it takes is an incendiary sermon by an imam, a rocket from Gaza, a ticking human bomb in Jenin or a terror attack just about anywhere to turn the region into a battlefield.
So, while Israel can heed the call by its allies in the US, Egypt and Jordan to refrain from unnecessary action and raids into Palestinian hotspots, ultimately the only real allegiance Israel has is the promise to keep its citizens safe.
Members of Netanyahu's government make unnecessary provocations
Given that, there is certainly no need to make the situation worse with unnecessary provocations. But that’s where members of the Netanyahu government seem to have an acute problem.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir made a point of visiting the Temple Mount after his appointment in January and vowed to continue entering the sensitive area.
On Sunday, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich added fuel to the fire by dismissing the existence of the Palestinian people in a speech he delivered in Paris.
“There is no such thing as Palestinians because there is no such thing as a Palestinian people.”Bezalel Smotrich
“There is no such thing as Palestinians because there is no such thing as a Palestinian people,” said Smotrich.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh responded to Smotrich on Monday, saying that his statements were “conclusive evidence of the extremist, racist Zionist ideology... of the current Israeli government.”
Statements like Smotrich’s, coming on the heels of both the Aqaba summit and yet another terrorist attack in Huwara, do nothing to forward the attempts to stitch together an environment of calm and normalcy. To the contrary, they, along with Smotrich and other prominent Israelis’ calls over the last two weeks to destroy Huwara, only create ground to continue the conflict as well as a veneer of an excuse by Palestinians to launch terror attacks.
Israel must make it clear that quiet will be met with quiet, and that if that’s not the case, neither Ramadan nor international appeals will prevent the country from taking action against terrorism.
At the same time, there’s no reason in the world for Smotrich to add needless and potentially damaging noise to the already volatile mix.