What appears to be escalation of Palestinian violence since July cannot be separated from what appears to be an escalation of Israeli violence against Palestinians during the same time period.
Conventional wisdom is that the closer we get to the end of April when the peace negotiations are supposed to reach agreement, the spoilers who are willing to use violence to sabotage the process will become bolder and more Israelis and Palestinians will pay with their lives. The analysts and military experts are all speculating on whether or not we are already witnessing a new intifada. It certainly feels like it with new attacks almost every day.
It seems only natural to link the current violence to the peace talks. Certainly those who fear an agreement the most, Israel’s right wing, the settlers, and Palestinian Islamic fundamentalists have clear reasons to push their publics to attach the rise in violence to the peace talks.
The recent report by Amos Harel in Haaretz linking former prisoners from Hamas who were released in the Schalit exchange to recent violence is also directly connected to the peace talks and to Israel’s obligation to release the third batch of pre-Oslo Palestinian prisoners, all convicted of killing Israelis.
The timing and the bombastic nature of the report and the political spins around the article cannot be ignored; a clear attempt by certain political individuals and certain people in the Israel Security Agency to put pressure on the government not to implement the third round of prisoner releases.
The bottom line remains that despite all of the threats hundreds of Israelis would be killed, two years and two months after the Schalit-deal prisoners were released, not one Israeli has been killed or hurt by released prisoners.
The Haaretz report essentially focused on two of more than 1,000 prisoners released who, from Gaza, are trying to form terrorist cells in the West Bank – without much success.
The ISA , according to the report, foiled some 80 attempted terrorist attacks in the past two years (this is a low level compared to many years in the past decade). We need to be thankful that they are doing such a good job, but also realize that that is why they exist. They are doing their job.
Perhaps the rise of violence is not connected to the peace talks at all, but with something else. Since the peace talks began, over 30 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have been killed by Israel. There are over 5,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons including some 200 minors and 15 women. Hundreds have been arrested since the peace talks began in July. Tens are arrested almost every night throughout the West Bank.
Since July, Israel has demolished over 200 Palestinian homes. Since July Israel has announced plans to build over 6,000 new housing units in the West Bank. Since July the Palestinian economy continues to deteriorate, the Palestinian Authority is incapable of paying its bills to the private sector and the financial horizon for most Palestinian young people is quite bleak.
Of course each side of the conflict only sees its own suffering and its own casualties. Israelis do not live the daily lives of Palestinians. They only see the increase in violence and fall easy prey to politicians who want to continue to discredit and delegitimize the Palestinian leadership. They are anxious to foil the peace talks and they thrive on creating more fear of Palestinians and the possibility of Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank.
The Palestinians don’t see the Israeli fears and cannot understand why the strong side in the conflict, the one with all of the power, responds with so much force against the Palestinians. The Palestinians only see their own pain and suffering and are incapable of seeing the Israeli side with the constant threat of the renewal of terrorism.
Most of the acts of Palestinian terrorism we’ve seen during past months have been individuals not taking orders from someone or acting on someone’s or some organizations behalf. These are acts of desperation, frustration, anger and a desire for revenge. The recent bus bombing probably involved more than one person, but not necessarily – we simply don’t know yet, but no organization or terrorist group has claimed responsibility.
The shooting of an Israeli worker on the fence near Gaza was not done, according to Palestinian sources, by any organization, but also by an individual.
What appears to be escalation of Palestinian violence since July cannot be separated from what appears to be an escalation of Israeli violence against Palestinians during the same time period. Nothing happens in a vacuum. And none of this is in the interests of the Palestinians or of Israel.
It is important that both Israelis and Palestinians recognize, articulate and behave according to the understanding that we both have an interest that both sides enjoy security and peace, prosperity and hope. Israelis have a keen interest in having happy neighbors. We must be interested in seeing a successful prosperous Palestinian state. Palestinians should have an interest in seeing a secure Israel that lives in peace with all of its neighbors and is not a threat to anyone.
It is very difficult to change patterns of interaction. It is extremely difficult to move from fear and animosity to partnership and good neighborly relations. If we all want to see a decline in violence, rather than escalation, it is essential that we begin to take responsibility for changing the context of the daily interactions. What each side says and what each side does effects how the other side responds – in words and in deeds. It is called reciprocity. This is a concept that our prime minister knows very well and it works in both directions.
Gershon Baskin is co-chairman of IPCRI, Israel-Palestine: Creative Regional Initiatives (IPCRI), formerly known as the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, a nonprofit think tank that combines research with peace-building actions and advocacy across Israel and Palestine. He is 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 The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press in English.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.