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Israeli Leadership Needed To Break Cycle of Violence
Security forces take security measures on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv after a Palestinian attacker opened fire on a crowded bar on April 7, 2022, killing at least two people. (Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Israeli Leadership Needed To Break Cycle of Violence

The tragic escalation of the cycle of violence between Israel and Palestinians surprised many but it shouldn’t have. To address this crisis, leadership is required.

Leadership has to have the courage to sometimes go against political and ideological pressures in order to produce results that affect the governed. Many Palestinians have been critical of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the past for his insistence on security coordination and refusing to cut off relations with the Israeli occupiers. Unfortunately, this courage has been met with total neglect on the Israeli side.

Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visited the White House in August 2021 and said his famous three noes to US President Joe Biden. He said no to meeting with the Palestinian Authority president, no to talks with Palestinians, and no to a settlement freeze. Ever since then, it has become clear that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is entering a dark tunnel. As the search for a solution to the current violent wave now intensifies, it is important to look at the larger context and the importance of leadership and governance.

It might be argued that Bennett, a right-wing politician and former director-general of the Yesha Council settlement organization who is heading an extremely shaky coalition government that is surviving on a razor-thin majority, had little choice but to avoid anything to do with advancing the peace process with the Palestinians. But herein lies the first problem: There is a huge gap between the party – and even coalition ideology – and governing.

Bennett the head of the right-wing Yamina party is and should be much different than Bennett the prime minister of the state of Israel. As a resident of the office of the prime minister, he is the Israeli leader that is responsible both for peace and war, and not just to make sure his coalition stays intact. Leadership requires doing things that ensure stability and peace for the governed and not just for the coalition.

Israel’s leadership built a policy based on an expectation that Palestinians living under occupation for over a decade and in exile for even longer simply is not an important issue. Perhaps Israeli politicians wrongly thought that Palestinians would just give up and declare their surrender to Israel or become believers in Zionism bowing down to the colonial settler policies that appear to be the popular narrative in Israel.

For their part, those among Abbas’ entourage that Israeli officials would agree to meet (largely with the hope of keeping the peace for Israelis, not advancing peace for all) have constantly had the same message: You can’t expect to have peace for Israelis if there is no political horizon. If Palestinians don’t see a path to freedom from occupation and a process that would lead to an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, it will not be possible to keep the peace no matter how strong the security coordination is.

In fact, the calls to Israel to work on providing a political horizon for Palestinians are not limited to the Palestinian leadership. US officials repeatedly have made the same argument to Israeli officials, but this advice was rejected. Israeli officials deluded themselves in rejecting this advice with the hopes and expectations that Palestinian attention could be pacified with a few economic breadcrumbs or the granting of a few families’ reunification permits.

The way out of the current vicious cycle is certainly not in revenge for attacks or by blowing up people’s homes and going after parents and siblings of assailants. Collective punishment, like settlement by an occupying power, is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The war on Ukraine has suddenly awakened world powers – including the US, the UK, and others – to the issue of war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law.

If the Israelis are searching for a way out of this wave of violence, they need to rethink their policies vis a vis the Palestinians. A proud Palestinian people will not succumb and will not surrender, but will continue to demand freedom from oppression, occupation, and the need for an end to the colonial settlement enterprise that seems to have no logical endgame except to exasperate Palestinian anger and frustration and helplessness.

Abbas told the United Nations General Assembly last fall that he will not be able to hold on to his moderation for more than one year. His appeal for what Yasser Arafat used to call the “peace of the brave” fell on deaf ears in Israel

The desired cooperation between moderates from both sides is clearly not possible with the current Israeli coalition. Maybe what is needed is the courage of a right-wing leader to be honest with the Israeli people and tell them that there is no way out of this endless tragic cycle except by recognizing the right of Palestinians to self-determination.

US President Richard Nixon’s visit to China and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s peace agreement with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat show that ideological leaders can take a chance on peace. Will there be anyone in Israel that is willing to meet the hand of peace extended by Palestinian leaders like Mahmoud Abbas?

 

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