Jews and Palestinians know how to press each other’s most sensitive buttons; in the barebones language of popular politics, they murder us and we take their land.
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The current wave of lone wolf terrorist murders, not least Tuesday morning’s attack on worshipers in a Jerusalem synagogue, are hardening the hearts of Israeli Jews: Not only right-wingers, who already exclusively consider the Palestinians to be a threat, but also of those remaining Israelis who identify as leftists and sympathetic centrists. When I myself see a young soldier murdered, targeted for wearing the same uniform that my sons will soon put on, my instinctive protectiveness overwhelms my political intellect.
Terrorism – whether low-tech murders by vehicle and knife, or mass murders by suicide bombing – accomplishes nothing for Palestinians. Terror threatens Israelis’ personal safety - but not Israel’s national sovereignty; ultimately it delays the state Palestinians dream of. Indeed, the terror campaigns prior to and following Rabin’s assassination and the Second Intifada undermined largely successful efforts to convince Israeli Jews to take risks for peace with the Palestinians. Two-state believers need to acknowledge that Palestinians could already have been far further towards their own state had they abandoned violence at a time when Israel’s Jewish majority was willing.
It's not hard to understand where today’s rage is coming from. 2100 Palestinians, including 500 children, were killed in a senseless war this summer, and yet the land grabs and daily control of Palestinian life by Israel continued. Israeli Jews have conveniently repressed these harsh facts, and almost forgotten all those Palestinian dead. Meanwhile, every time another Jewish Israeli is murdered, our ‘Never Again!’ rage is stoked. And we justify to ourselves almost any response, regardless of whether it is proportionate, or reasonable. Palestinians, meanwhile, victimized daily by our occupation, seem to take little if any responsibility for the violence they perpetrate.
After recently marking the 19th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, it is time for the Palestinians and the Israeli left to look clearly at our situation and de-fog our political thinking. If we want to win Israeli hearts and minds back to at least some belief in a two-state solution, we have to acknowledge that Palestinian terror destroyed the Jewish willingness to take risks for peace far more than Israel’s own right wing rhetoric, even as it provided and continues to supply that rhetoric its most potent ammunition. The current outbreak of terror reminds us of the darkest days of the second intifada; but there has been no period in which Palestinians completely abandoned violence; Hamas’ control of Gaza gave Israel’s right wing a justification to mock Mahmoud Abbas’ commitment to non-violence for seven long years.
But after these seven years of verbal abuse by Israeli leaders, and after failing to unify the Palestinian political command before or after the war this summer, Abbas has lashed out, condoning the current terror and resorting to one of Yasser Arafat’s most destructive tactics: Reframing and inflaming the Jewish-Palestinian turf war into a global religious war. Abbas called on all Muslims to ‘Save al-Aqsa’, ignoring Netanyahu’s repeated assertions that there will be no change of the status quo on the Temple Mount, preferring to exploit the populist rantings of irresponsible Israeli politicians like Tzipi Hotovely and Miri Regev (Likud), who are not taken seriously by most of the Israeli public. We told you he’s a terrorist! Israel’s leaders exulted, proud to have worn out their adversary.
As he has done for 20 years, Netanyahu seeks to prevent all compromise that might lead to a Palestinian state. Addressing the nation in prime time last week, he was like a wax animatronic figure stuck in bullying mode. He denied Abbas’ claim about Al-Aqsa in passing, but exerted far more energy calling Abbas a liar, threatening Palestinians with severe crackdowns and demonstrating his astonishing insensitivity to Israel’s own Palestinian citizens. Meanwhile, his government passed insane laws – 10-20 year sentences for stone throwing – as if that will stop desperate young Palestinians in East Jerusalem. (Imagine them languishing in prison long after former PM Ehud Olmert is released.) It must have reassured Hamas, who saw they have a willing partner for their dance of death.
There is no Yitzhak Rabin on the horizon, and there is no Palestinian Nelson Mandela, certainly not Marwan Barghouti, calling for a violent intifada from an Israeli prison.
Last week, at one of the annual memorial rallies in Tel Aviv, I saw how Rabin’s legacy and the two-state one-state left-right divide are quietly dissolving - there, in Rabin Square, the location of his assassination and epicenter of leftist pain. Along with tens of thousands of teenagers in varying shades of youth movement blue, I listened to passionate calls for Jewish-Arab coexistence, equal rights, values to replace materialism, calls made primarily by right-wing settlers or their advocates, all of whom, including President Ruby Rivlin, reject the two-state solution for which Rabin lost his life. As much as anything, the gathering celebrated the event-planning collaboration of left-wing youth movements with their right-wing, religious counterpart Bnei Akiva, the vanguard of the settlement movement for more than three decades. It was a further reminder that the settlers have won their campaign for political and social normalization.
If those of us who believe in a two-state solution are to have any chance of making progress, we must find ways to circumvent the tunnel vision of our leaders on both sides, but we also need a more honest look at the real price of Palestinian violence, the depth of hatred and distrust on both sides, and at an Israeli electorate in which settlers are cozily mainstream.
Don Futterman is the program director for Israel of the Moriah Fund, a private American foundation that has been working to promote peace in Israel for more than 25 years. He can be heard weekly on TLV-1’s The Promised Podcast.