A Palestinian house in Hebron occupied by settlers
A Palestinian house in Hebron occupied by settlers. Photo by Emil Salman
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Staff Sgt. Gal Kobi was killed in a shooting attack while standing guard at a checkpoint near the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The circumstances of the attack are still being investigated. Kobi was yet another victim of a brutal reality that dictates daily violent friction between Israel Defense Forces soldiers and Palestinian residents, in which the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims, has become a prime focus of disturbances of the peace and murderous acts.

Palestinian Hebron and the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, along with the Jewish neighborhoods that were built in the heart of the Arab city, are bound together with cords of hostility, hatred and high tension. Supreme sensitivity, restraint and wisdom are necessary to prevent the poisonous vapors from exploding and puncturing the relative quiet that currently prevails in the West Bank. One can understand the anger of both the public and the prime minister over the murderous attack, but the latter’s hasty response of ordering “immediate action” to permit Jews to move into Hebron’s Machpela House attests more than anything to the absence of the wisdom that is needed now more than ever. Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement was more like a revengeful “price tag” attack, this time under government auspices, than a rational policy move.

Machpela House is a building surrounded by controversy. The question of who owns it was discussed by an authorized appeals committee, after the Civil Administration concluded a year ago that there were flaws in its purchase and refused to grant the Jewish claimants ownership rights. These legal considerations alone should suffice to halt Netanyahu’s race to settle the building, located in the heart of Hebron.

But beyond that, it is supremely important to refrain from placing explosive landmines in the path of the fragile negotiations Israel and the Palestinians are now conducting. Populating this building won’t bring Kobi back to life, but it is liable to lead to other attacks that would set Hebron ablaze and cause the negotiations that were launched with such enormous effort to fail.

The haste that took hold of Netanyahu and some of his ministers, including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, is liable to raise suspicions that they were just waiting for an incident that would rescue the government from a peace process it didn’t want.

Investigating the attack and trying to track down its perpetrators and put them on trial are the responsibility of the security forces, which have proved their capabilities in the past. They also have a responsibility to examine security procedures around the Tomb of the Patriarchs and draw operational conclusions that would prevent similar attacks in the future and reduce the scope for violent friction. Populating Machpela House as a “suitable Zionist response” contradicts that goal.