Time to talk to the Palestinians

Op-ed: Continuing to hold onto the West Bank while doing zero to settle the conflict will keep costing Israeli lives

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.

Palestinians run from tear gas during clashes with Israeli troops near Ramallah, West Bank, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Palestinians run from tear gas during clashes with Israeli troops near Ramallah, West Bank, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

The series of attacks over the past two days in which two Israelis were killed demonstrates what Israel evidently refuses to acknowledge: we are in the midst of a third Intifada with no end in sight. This is an uprising minus the masses and without a guiding hand, but with quite a few not-so-lone terrorists and endless motivation on the part of young Palestinian men and women to go out and kill and, if necessary, be killed.

The attackers come from all ranks of the Palestinian population, from towns and villages, refugee camps and affluent neighborhoods, and they range in age from 11 to 73. And worst of all, it seems nothing can stop the trend. The status quo is the big winner at this stage. And it’s not the status quo that we all miss from three months ago, that of “relative calm.” We’re in a new reality in which every day brings more attacks, more wounded and more killed.

By my calculation, no change can be expected in the current situation for another year and a half. The American government, whose representative, Secretary of State John Kerry, arrives in the region today, has no plans to renew negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. So until the US elections a year from now, no policy change can be expected. It will then take another two months for the new president to take office, and then another few months to hash out a new Middle East policy, at the end of which there may or may not be a change in the political sphere.

The security establishment’s repeated warnings that without negotiations or significant gestures there would be an escalation fell on deaf ears

For their part, the Palestinian Authority appears to have switched to silent mode, avoiding blatant incitement and refraining from making public pronouncements. They’re basically missing in action. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his people appear to be in no hurry to get anywhere in particular, and are perfectly content to watch Israel bleed as long as no one can blame them for it. As for the Israeli government, it’s sticking to the line that there’s nothing to be done and nobody to negotiate with and now’s not the time for talks or making gestures to the Palestinian Authority because that would amount to rewarding terror.

The absurdity is that when things were relatively calm, those same politicians opposed initiatives, negotiations, gestures etc., because, they said, the conflict can’t be resolved, only managed, and the status quo is not bad for Israel. The security establishment’s repeated warnings that without negotiations or significant gestures there would be an escalation fell on deaf ears. For these politicians, the calm was the be all and end all. Then the violence flared up. At which point, those who argued against making gestures or negotiations took every opportunity to say we told you so.

No, they did not tell us so. We in the media and those in defense told them this would happen and that they needed to act, and they opted to ignore us in order to preserve the sanctity of Greater Israel. Perhaps they were right. Maybe peace negotiations and even territorial concession would lead to catastrophe. As things stand, it looks like we’ll never know. What we do know is that if you want to just “manage the conflict,” there will be a bloody price to pay, and it’s time to make that clear to the largely right-wing Israeli public: the “managing the conflict” bubble has burst in our faces and the price is getting higher and higher with each passing day. You wanted to keep controlling the territories? You wanted to continue the occupation? That’s the price.

Meanwhile, Israeli ministers look like deer in the headlights just before the vehicle hits. They are helpless, with no hope or solutions and, above all, frozen in place. When decision-makers of Naftali Bennett’s ilk are asked about it, they answer along the lines of “this government is doing more than past governments.” They’re referring to punitive house demolitions, security re-enforcements, military operations. They may be right. There’s just one little problem with that argument: Under previous governments such measures weren’t necessary because there were far fewer attacks. And even with the house demolitions and sending more troops to the Gush Etzion junction, new places will always pop up where there will be three or thirty soldiers and some young Palestinian stupid enough to try to attack.

So what’s the solution? Ultimately, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have no choice but to resort to the doomsday option: Actually talking with the Palestinian Authority to negotiate peace. No other solution is likely to bring quiet. And even that one may no longer work.

read more: