Israel’s Answer to the Violence: More, Better Violence

Has the Third Intifada begun? It doesn’t matter what we call it, as long as bloodshed remains the only conceivable response.

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Jerusalem is exploding, the West Bank is on fire and as of Monday, the rioting had spread to Jaffa. As of writing, four Israelis had been murdered in the last three weeks of violence, and a 13-year old boy was shot dead by Israeli troops north of Bethlehem. Overeager tabloids, pundits and politicians have been quick to proclaim: “The Third Intifada has begun.”

The Third Intifada has been predicted at least since the second one ended, but has it truly begun? Probably not. This is still a depressing time to be an Israeli, nonetheless.

The most depressing aspect isn't necessarily the escalating, senseless violence. Sadly, this has become a seasonal occurrence. Rather, it is that no one seems to have any idea how to end it. In lieu of proposing actual plans, Israel’s politicians seem hell-bent on repeating the same mistakes that helped create the situation to begin with, effectively demanding more violence instead.

Crisis presents bold politicians with opportunities to promote radical new ideas. Israel however is short of bold politicians. If the past week has proven anything, it is the profound intellectual bankruptcy among Israel’s political class. Israeli politicians have been revealed at their most Pavlovian: repeating tactics that failed, speaking in vague cliches, recycling tired old slogans about “acting tough on terror.”

Go easy on them, folks. They only had decades to prepare.

Doubling down on bad plans

Take Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for instance. Earlier this week, Netanyahu’s security cabinet authorized a series of recycled anti-terror measures, among them stepping up administrative detentions and expediting the demolition of terrorists’ homes. Never mind that home demolitions are notoriously ineffective, that the IDF itself has said (way back in 2005) that they fail to deter terrorists and in fact actively encourage terrorism. Never mind that administrative detentions, which are routinely employed, have a similar dismal track record.

When something doesn’t work, one is supposed to rethink. Netanyahu doubles down.

Likewise, the rest of Israel's right-wing was united in its demand for a full-scale military operation to finally eradicate terrorism in the West Bank and Gaza, despite the failure of all previous operations to achieve just that. Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked accused Netanyahu of “not doing enough” and “not backing” IDF commanders in the fight against terror, and demanded harsher measures. What, exactly? They didn’t go into specifics. “Things that would hurt them, make them understand (terror) doesn’t pay,” Shaked said.

And of course, there is the center-left. Zionist Union MKs, headed by opposition leader Isaac Herzog, rightly attack Netanyahu over his failure to provide security for Israel. But they offer no alternative vision or a practical plan. Instead, they just keep repeating that Netanyahu is “weak” against terror (thereby giving Netanyahu a taste of his own medicine), and promising they would be stronger in his stead. How? They don't say.

While mouthing slogans about the need to “crack down” on terror, some did give lip-service to negotiations (some using the current nonsensical euphemism-du-jour: “regional move”). Then, to a man, they repeated one of the key errors of the Israeli left and joined the right-wing in savaging Mahmoud Abbas as a non-partner.

With whom, then, should Israel negotiate? And how about the fact that Israel’s security establishment has repeatedly contradicted claims that Abbas is advocating terrorism? In their zeal to win over right-wing voters, Zionist Union MKs have once again missed an opportunity to do something meaningful.

In a famous quote, insanity is defined as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, or Benjamin Franklin (or whomever was responsible for this adage) would not have made it far in Israeli politics.

Dearth of new ideas

The uniformity and repetitiveness of Israel’s leaders are only a symptom of a larger problem: idea-wise, they have nothing to offer.

For two decades, Israel has experimented with two approaches: negotiations (as exemplified by the Oslo Process) and unilateral moves (Ariel Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza). The honesty with which Israel has embarked on either path is debatable, but the outcome was the same: the violence persisted. And the public lost its faith.

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Yet these ideas, useless or haphazard as they were, were replaced by nothing more than vacuum. Netanyahu has never presented a plan of his own, rather, he changes his views in accordance with his internal political needs. He rejected the two-state solution, then embraced it, then denounced to it again before Israel’s most recent elections, then embraced it again. All the while, construction in the settlements continued unabated, rendering the one-state solution all but fact.

Into that vacuum, violence entered as the only outlet for flaring tensions.

The appeal of “responding to force with force”, as Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai called it this week, has enraptured Israeli politicians, ever in need of appealing to the public’s thirst for short-term revenge. “When it comes to terror,” Herzog famously said earlier this year, “there is no coalition and no opposition.”

Thanks to this vacuum, Israel has also gotten used to a so-called “low-intensity” routine of detachment and lethargy that includes occasional escalations, followed by extended military operations that claim thousands of lives but can never achieve more than a brief lull.

Reactions to the most recent wave of violence hardly differed from the pattern. The right wants harsher violence, the left advocates for better, more-humane violence. Both, essentially, are saying the same thing, which is nothing at all, with neither promising this course of action will have lasting effects.

One has to feel for the right-wing, though. After six years at the helm, right-wing politicians have become severely frustrated with their constrained ability to please the blood-thirst of their voters.  In a display of absurdity that has become all too common in Israeli politics, Netanyahu’s fellow Likudniks, like minister Haim Katz or Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Hotovely,, joined right-wing protests against the government this week, essentially protesting against themselves.

One Israeli politician did try to promote a new approach, though: former finance minister Yair Lapid. As is usual with Lapid, the “plan” he presented to the public last month was a ridiculous affair, a hodgepodge of contradictions and anachronisms. But at least he tried.

Israel’s vacuum of ideas represents a clear danger: that Israel will continue to react to spiking tensions with disproportionate spectacles of Pavlovian violence that achieve nothing but more violence. This makes the Third Intifada inevitable, regardless of when it actually begins.