This terror is the price of the status quo

Op-Ed: Why is Israel refusing to talk to the PA, which is actually foiling attacks, yet holding indirect talks with Hamas?

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

One of four Israeli men who were wounded in a drive-by shooting terror attack near Shvut Rachel, is brought to the Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem on June 29, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
One of four Israeli men who were wounded in a drive-by shooting terror attack near Shvut Rachel, is brought to the Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem on June 29, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The terrorist attack on Monday night near Shvut Rachel no longer looks like part of the same wave of “lone wolf terror attacks” with which we have become familiar over the last two years.

The terrorists who fired at the Israeli car on Monday were not engaging in a spontaneous, improvised attack, unlike those recent vehicular attacks or stabbings. There was a certain level of planning involved: The car that took the terrorists away from the scene and the weapons they used probably cost a fair bit of money. The location of the attack, north of Ramallah, also suggests a possible connection to the attack 11 days ago near the Dolev settlement, which killed Danny Gonen.

There, too, was a vehicle to extract the terrorists, as well as firearms and a certain knowledge of the area, all of which indicates a level of planning. Is this the same organization? It is hard to determine at this stage. But it is certainly a possibility, given that this rural stretch north and west of Ramallah is considered to be an area in which Hamas has a sizable civic and military presence.

The man responsible for running Hamas’ terrorist cells in the West Bank, Saleh al-Arouri, is currently based in Turkey (yes that same Turkey with which Israel is holding reconciliation talks). Tellingly, he is originally from a village just a few miles away both from Dolev and from the site of Monday night’s attack.

Nonetheless, it is important to make a few things clear. This is not a new kind of intifada, at least not at this stage. Naturally, there is a tendency to describe the recent chain of terrorist attacks as a “wave”, but it is only honest to declare that it is in fact the price of the status quo.

The Israeli and Palestinians security forces who closely cooperate, including on the prevention of terrorist attacks, cannot completely prevent such attacks, given the political-security situation in the territories. It is easy for settlement leaders to place blame on alleged incitement by the Palestinian Authority, and it is difficult for them to deal with the fact that the Palestinian public has no political horizon, a stagnant economy and constant settlement construction all around them.

Most of the Palestinian public is not interested in terrorist attacks. They prefer to look for new economic opportunities in the territories, in Israel and abroad. At the same time, however, there will always be those who prefer the old ways of the unsuccessful “armed struggle.”

To this end, the responses from some heads of the Yesha Council to Monday night’s attack are paradoxical in more ways than one. Firstly, the Palestinian Authority, which is now accused of fanning the flames – especially around Ramadan – has played a critical role in keeping the West Bank relatively quiet and ensuring a low number of attacks.

Granted, compared to other months and other years, this is a more turbulent period, but if we were to compare it with the security situation of a decade ago, then we are experiencing an unusual calm. The PA and its security services have foiled dozens of terrorist attacks in recent years — and the settler leaders know this.

The second paradox is the settlers’ call to cancel the exemptions given to the Palestinian population to mark Ramadan. These steps were another central factor in maintaining the relative calm in the West Bank over the past year.

The work permits Israel issued to 72,000 Palestinians (52,000 workers and 20,000 traders), along with tens of thousands of Palestinians working illegally in Israel, facilitate calm and are not a catalyst for escalation. This is also true of the blanket approval for Palestinians over the age of 55 to travel into Israel freely (since last October, some 280,000 Palestinians have entered Israel). Any reasonable person understands that restricting these measures may lower the volume on the belligerent statements by some Yesha leaders, but it will certainly not lead to calm in the area.

But the third paradox, and perhaps the greatest of them all, is Israel’s insistence on holding indirect talks with Hamas – the same organization that is trying to encourage terrorist attacks in the West Bank in any way possible – while avoiding any dialogue with the Palestinian Authority. Oh, the lengths to which Israel will go simply to preserve the status quo.

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