With no diplomatic horizon, terror wave won’t break

Monday’s attacks puncture the belief that the stabbing intifada was contained; absent new peace talks, things will only get worse

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.

Illustrative: Israeli security forces fire tear gas canisters to disperse Palestinian protesters during a demonstration in the West Bank city of Hebron, on October 27, 2015. (AFP Photo/Hazem Bader)
Illustrative: Israeli security forces fire tear gas canisters to disperse Palestinian protesters during a demonstration in the West Bank city of Hebron, on October 27, 2015. (AFP Photo/Hazem Bader)

For a brief moment, Israeli citizens and security services found a measure of comfort as they adjusted to a routine of terror attacks — so long as they were confined to the West Bank, specifically Hebron.

For a brief moment, there was hope on the horizon that it was all a localized outburst of insanity, a product of Hebron alone, which would exhaust its energy crashing against Israel’s security forces in the city.

The US-negotiated arrangement ostensibly reached over the Temple Mount between Israel and Jordan contributed to the sense that the status quo’s return was imminent, and that passions would soon cool.

And, indeed, the popular dimension of the recent escalation has dissipated. Fewer Palestinian demonstrators are sweeping the streets. The Palestinian Authority stopped issuing fiery and inciting declarations, and Israelis began to believe that the events of recent weeks were contained.

But realities on the ground have stymied this hope. Israel has witnessed over a month of daily terror attacks, stabbings, car rammings and shootings by Palestinian youths willing to die in the assaults. Each day brings one, two, even three or more attacks.

In most cases, the attacks are indeed born in Hebron, but as Monday’s stabbings in Rishon LeZion and Netanya show, there are also exceptions, attackers who hail from Tulkarem, the Jerusalem area and Jenin, and who can strike anywhere.

Some are calling this a “terror wave.” The problem with this characterization is that waves pass, while this wave is sticking around. It may be a new type of intifada, one not directed from above or by any of the Palestinian organizations.

Much of this has already been written and analyzed. And yet the problem persists; there is no light visible at the end of this tunnel. Israel’s leaders have been focusing efforts on resuming their policy of “managing the conflict” through temporary measures, while avoiding larger and more meaningful steps, perhaps out of fear for the stability of the Netanyahu-led coalition.

Another problem, no less worrying: Even if Israel were to take a dramatic step toward peace, it’s not at all clear it would have the capacity to stuff the genie back into the bottle.

And so the attacks have become Israel’s new normal. Such states are not a novelty in the Israeli experience, but at least in the past we could identify an “enemy” — the terror networks of Hamas or the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. Today, every 16-year-old boy is a potential terrorist.

The Palestinian Authority is avoiding direct confrontation with Israel for the time being. Its president, Mahmoud Abbas, is trying to calm the situation and insists he does not intend to cancel the Oslo agreements. The entire leadership has stopped trying to inflame their public, and even the most rebellious among Fatah’s senior officials have grown quiet.

According to senior PA officials, US Secretary of State John Kerry promised Abbas during their last meeting that the peace process would be restarted after the upcoming summit meeting in Washington between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama. That’s one reason for the PA’s relative quiet.

But the prospects for any such restart seem slim. The US administration has no intention of sparking a new confrontation with Israel over the Palestinian issue. After the crisis between Washington and Jerusalem over the nuclear deal with Iran, the White House will make a significant effort to improve relations with Israel. That approach will likely see it avoiding any meaningful pressure on Israel to renew negotiations with the Palestinians.

And so there is no discernible cause for optimism. Without a diplomatic process, any reduction in the pace of terror attacks will be temporary, and is likely to be followed by an even worse escalation.

That’s the price tag for managing the conflict.

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