In their statements on Wednesday’s deadly terror attack in Tel Aviv, world leaders refrained from their usual chorus of asking both Israelis and Palestinians, in the same breath, to exercise “restraint” and to resume peace talks. Rather, they limited themselves to outright condemnations of the murders and in some cases even denounced Hamas for celebrating the bloodbath and called for an end to the anti-Jewish propaganda that is seen to have inspired it.
However, rather than a sea change in world attitudes toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this remarkably different tone from the international community is solely a matter of semantics.
Hence, pressure on Israel to move toward the implementation of a two-state solution is liable to pick up not long after the reports of this attack fade from the headlines, and even probably intensify dramatically in the coming weeks and months.
The change in style of post-attack condemnations is unmistakable, though, as a quick comparison indicates.
After a November 2014 attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood, during which four Jews and a Druze policeman were killed and several people injured, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denounced all forms of terrorism and then called for “political leadership and courage on both sides to take actions to address the very tense situation” in Israel’s capital.
“All sides must avoid using provocative rhetoric which only encourages extremist elements,” Ban stated. He then invoked “the imperative for leaders on both sides to make the difficult decisions that will promote stability and ensure long-term security for both Israelis and Palestinians.”
Following a string of attacks against Jews in Jerusalem in October 2015, Ban said he was “deeply troubled” by Palestinian groups praising these acts. He then went on to urge “all leaders to condemn violence and incitement, maintain calm and to do everything they can to avoid further escalation.” Concluding his statement, he reiterated his belief that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be solved through “a negotiated two-state solution.”
His statement on Wednesday’s night shooting at Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market was strikingly different. He not only condemned the act itself but added that “there is no justification for terrorism nor for the glorification of those who commit such heinous acts.”
Ban said he was “shocked that the leaders of Hamas have chosen to welcome this attack and some have chosen to celebrate it.” His statement ended with a call to the Palestinian leadership “to live up to their responsibility to stand firmly against violence and the incitement that fuels it.” It contained no calls for restraint or for a quick resumption of peace negotiations.
The European Union has also changed the wording of its responses to Palestinian terror.
A November 2014 attack in East Jerusalem served as “further painful evidence of the need to undertake serious efforts towards a sustainable peace agreement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” EU foreign policy czar Federica Mogherini said at the time. After expressing condolences to the victim’s family, she exhorted “all parties to act responsibly and show restraint, to not further inflame the already very tense situation.” No word about incitement or the glorification of violence.
‘Those who praise this attack must be condemned’ — Federica Mogherini
Her statement on Wednesday’s attack in Tel Aviv struck a different tone. Rather than repeating boilerplate phrases about the need for a resumption of peace talks, it merely expresses sympathy for those who lost family members and concludes with these resolute sentences: “Those responsible for these murders must be brought to justice. Those who praise this attack must be condemned.”
Israeli hasbara, or public diplomacy, appears to have been effective in this area. Since the outbreak of the current wave of terrorism, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has often called on the international community not only to denounce violent acts against Israelis but to denounce the Palestinian Authority for not speaking out against them forcefully enough. This “failure to condemn terrorism,” he said in March, “should be condemned itself by everybody in the international community.”
Hours after Wednesday’s attack, Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon requested condemnations from the Secretary General and the Security Council. “Today’s heinous attack sadly proves that when the international community refuses to condemn terror against Israelis, the next attack is only a matter of time,” he said.
Even before Danon issued his statement, the UN’s special envoy to the peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, had tweeted that he was “shocked” to see Hamas celebrate Wednesday’s Tel Aviv bloodbath, adding that leaders “must stand against violence and the incitement that fuels it, not condone it.”
— Nickolay E. MLADENOV (@nmladenov) June 8, 2016
The fact that Mladenov preempted Danon in denouncing not only the attack itself but also the incitement to and the glorification of violence aptly illustrates that Israel’s demands on this front have been heeded, at least to some extent.
And yet, Netanyahu and his ambassador in the UN’s Turtle Bay headquarters have little reason to rejoice. The fact that world leaders today appear less inclined to call for “restraint” and more inclined to condemn Palestinian hate speech in no way foretells a radical change in the way they seek to fix the Middle East.
While many Israelis argue that it is impossible to create a Palestinian state as long as the region is in turmoil — it’s like laying the foundations for a new house right in the middle of an earthquake, Defense Minister Avigor Liberman likes to say — much of the international community disagrees.
Rather, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still considered the root cause for the region’s many woes. Solving it could stabilize the area, French President Francois Hollande for instance argued in his speech at last week’s peace summit in Paris.
He acknowledged that some view the Palestinian issue as under control and therefore less urgent than the situation in Syria and Iraq. “But I think that, on the contrary, these changes make it even more urgent to resolve the conflict,” he declared, “and that regional upheavals create new obligations for the international community and for pursuing peace.”
Hollande is not alone in his assessment. In their statements on the Tel Aviv bloodbath they may not have spelled it out this time, but many world leaders are convinced that this attack — and Israel’s anticipated response, which is liable to further frustrate the Palestinian public — make another peace push more urgent than ever.
The French plan for an international peace summit later this year is thus still on the table, as is the specter of a pro-Palestinian statehood resolution at the UN in the fall that the United States might support or refuse to veto.
In the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s shooting, Netanyahu can be expected to talk less about his eagerness to conduct peace negotiations, as he did in recent weeks, and more about his determination to fight terrorism. But the international pressure will resume soon enough. Netanyahu will make his best effort to fend it off, but this time it will be harder to argue that the world ignores Palestinian incitement.