The current round of violence which began in October of last year has not served the interests of Israelis nor Palestinians and must be brought to an end. It is a most unusual round of violence not directed by any organization or by the leadership of Palestine. It is undertaken by a relatively small number of mostly very young Palestinians. It is fueled by a combination of despair, no economic of political horizon, wide Palestinian public support, “heroization” of its actors gaining fame for “martyrdom,” and promising their families a higher place in society as well as securing financial benefits from the PLO, Hamas and from other donors. Even when the families of the Palestinian attackers directly suffer the consequences of their children’s actions and their homes are demolished, they can rest assured that their homes will be rebuilt quickly with funds coming from Palestine and from the Arab world. No one remains homeless and more often than not, their new homes are larger and better than their original homes.
There are those in Israel who believe that the only way to combat the new individual terrorists is to use more force against the Palestinian public and to impose consequences on the society for the actions of the few. Collective punishment has never worked and yet there are those who continue to believe that it does. The only place where collective punishment against the Palestinians is effective is in the Israeli political arena. The Israeli politicians must demonstrate to their public that they are doing something to combat the terrorism and these politicians are convinced that when they can show how the Palestinian public is suffering, the Israeli public will be satisfied. Israeli politicians and military people do not speak about providing more security, instead they speak about providing a greater sense of security. A sense of security is important – without it the society and the economy will come to a standstill.
But a sense of security is not security. And security will not be provided by using more force, it will create more support for terrorism, more resistance to Israeli measures and increasingly less support for any moderate voices that still exist on the other side.
Security will only exist when the society on the other side rejects the use of terrorism against Israelis citizens and the use of violence against soldiers and police. The other side will not be convinced to loudly voice their opposition to the attacks against Israelis while they continue to suffer and see no hope for positive change on the horizon. No Israeli that I know would ever agree to live under the conditions that exist for Palestinians in the West Bank, east Jerusalem or Gaza. Why would they? Jews have proven their willingness to fight, to die and to kill for a territorial expression of their identity. Palestinians have done so too. Why would anyone expect them to stop fighting and opposing Israeli control and domination over their lives? Since the second intifada in September 2000 most contact between Israelis and Palestinians has ceased. Of the 26 joint Israeli-Palestinian bodies that were created under the Oslo agreements, not one exists today. Young Israelis and young Palestinians do not interact and do not know each other. Civil servants on both sides have no contact across the conflict lines. In such a small territory, this is not normal and should not be accepted. Contact between civilians and officials on both sides will not change reality overnight, but it would be a step in the right direction.
We must begin to internalize the idea that wanting our neighbors to suffer makes absolutely no sense. We should all desire for our neighbors to be happy, prosperous, democratic and peaceful. Once we begin to accept this idea we then must ask ourselves, what can we do to aid in the process of enabling a better life for our neighbors? It is clear that it takes two to tango and peace can only be established when both sides sit down and negotiate an agreement that is acceptable to both parties. While there is some symmetry at the negotiating table because it does take two to reach an agreement, there is absolutely no symmetry in the conflict. One side (Israel) is a recognized state with a strong economy, strong state institutions and a very strong military. The other side (Palestine) is weak, has weak state institutions, might be recognized by the UN and some countries as a state but in reality has no sovereignty over anything, has a poor economy, and no military force.
One country is an occupier and the other is occupied. The State of Israel has in its toolbox a lot of diplomatic and economic tools that are not being used to leverage positive change in Palestine. There is no determination, nor has there ever been real determination to use the tools at the disposal of Israeli decision makers to promise the Palestinian people a better life – regardless of what their leaders say and do. The Netanyahu mantra of “they give, they get” should be irrelevant in the determination to improve the lives of our neighbors – not because of the love of Arabs, but because it is the best way to secure security for Israel and for Israelis.
This conflict will never come to end without resolving the main political disputes: mutual recognition, Palestinian statehood, borders, Jerusalem, refugees and water. This conflict will never be resolved without having Israelis and Palestinians taking direct responsibility for securing the peace and providing security to both Israelis and Palestinians.
It seems that there is no political will from the leaders on both sides to bring this conflict to a political resolution in the foreseeable future – that will probably require political change on either side and more probably on both sides.
But in the absence of the possibility for a negotiated end to the conflict, we must ask ourselves what can be done to provide more security. We have tried force. We have tried even more force. What we have not tried is a determination and a political directive to employ all of the power of the State of Israel to provide a better life and hope for our Palestinian neighbors. It is time to try something new.
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and as The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press.