The terrorist threat

"We so quickly forget the past. But the realities on the ground, whether in the West Bank or in Gaza, do not allow us to forget the horrible dilemmas we face."

conf.terrorism 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
conf.terrorism 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The nation went through a collective state of déjà vu on Sunday. Suddenly we were all thrown back to a time when terrorist bombings were an outrageously common occurrence on our buses, on our streets and in our cafes. It could have been the mid- 1990s when Israel had embarked on the Oslo Accord, and terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad were registering their displeasure with the PLO’s purported capitulation to “the Zionist entity” by staging indiscriminate murderous attacks on men, women and children. Or it could have been the early 2000s, when Palestinians launched the bloody second intifada, supposedly out of frustration with a stalled peace process.
Once again Israeli citizens are being asked by police and military officers to be alert, like passenger David Pappo, whose initiative on Sunday prevented what could have been a deadly bombing in Bat Yam. Pappo was the one who first raised suspicions regarding an unclaimed bag which turned out to be a bomb. Pappo was also instrumental in evacuating the bus before the bomb was detonated.
And once again, politicians like Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is leading negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, are putting forward a message which is a variation of the phrase “we fight terrorism as if there are no peace talks and we have to pursue peace as if there is no terror,” first coined by Yitzhak Rabin during the Oslo era.
In response to Sunday’s explosion, which has not yet officially been declared a terrorist attack, Livni said “those who are attempting to hurt us with terror attacks are not the same ones with whom we are negotiating,” adding, “terrorists must be fought with force. The State of Israel is capable of doing it and it will do it.”
There has definitely been an uptick in the frequency and intensity of terrorist activity. In the West Bank, IDF forces are encountering higher levels of violent opposition when entering Palestinian villages to arrest suspects; the number of stabbing incidents has increased at security checkpoints; there are more incidents of throwing of both rocks and Molotov cocktails.
The general feeling in the West Bank is of escalating animosity. So far, security experts like Yoram Schweitzer, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies, say what we are seeing is not an intifada, because there does not appear to be any central planning being done by a group or groups, rather just an aggregate of isolated incidents carried out on the individual level. However, there is an atmosphere of increasing tension, which provides a conducive backdrop for terror attacks – whether by organizations or individuals.
And just as was the case in past waves of terrorism, peace negotiations seem to be a trigger for the recent rise in Palestinian violence. For fundamentalist, reactionary and virulently anti-Jewish terror organizations like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Salafist groups, the present negotiations with the PA are seen as a betrayal of Palestinian interests. And terror is the means used to stop such betrayal. The preferred stage for violence is either the West Bank or inside the Green Line. But we have also been witness to increased terrorist activity emanating from Gaza, whether it be rocket fire on cities in the South or attempts to place roadside bombs along the border.
Meanwhile, some in the PA have a vested interest in creating the impression that the Palestinians are on the verge of launching a third intifada if the present talks break down so as to put pressure on Israel. Even US Secretary of State John Kerry has helped create that impression. Though the PA might not want to see the violence get out of hand, they may be powerless to control it.
We so quickly forget the past. But the realities on the ground, whether in the West Bank or in Gaza, do not allow us to forget the horrible dilemmas we face. The status quo is untenable, not just because the international community refuses to accept it, but because it would mean the end of a Jewish and democratic Israel. But attempts to extricate ourselves from this status quo carry with them dangers that remind us of the not too distant past.