Settlers, Palestinian Leadership and Global Peace Cheerleaders Are All to Blame

The sins of all three groups have contributed to the breakdown in Israeli-Palestinian relations that could lead to a third intifada.

Ari Shavit
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A Palestinian stone-thrower throws back a tear gas canister fired by Israeli border police during clashes at a checkpoint between Shuafat refugee camp and Jerusalem, Nov. 6, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Ari Shavit

The first sin was committed by the Israeli right. If a third intifada breaks out here, the responsibility will lie first and foremost with the settlers.

The religious settlement movement of Gush Emunim has taken over the political system by taking control of Likud, founding Habayit Hayehudi and forming a fraternal alliance with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. Gush Emunim compelled the political system to focus only on settlements, settlements, settlements. Gush Emunim didn’t leave a drop of oxygen in the room, and turned Israel into a country the world sees as South Africa and the Middle East sees as Rhodesia.

The settlers created an elaborate, radical, anti-Zionist order, combining political genius (in managing the Israeli system) with diplomatic backwardness (in handling the international system). As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s father, the late historian Benzion Netanyahu, used to say again and again, there is no greater danger than the danger embodied in infantile messianism. You don’t have to be a radical leftist to understand that Zion’s destroyers from Judea and Samaria are endangering everything. They enable neither political flexibility nor strategic creativity, and they could lead the democratic Jewish state to disaster.

The second sin was committed by the Palestinians. If a third intifada breaks out here, the responsibility will lie to a large extent with the Palestinian leadership.

It was the Palestinian leadership that broke the negotiation rules to wage a diplomatic war on Israel, ultimately sparking a military war. It chose to set up a government with Hamas, making Hamas’ ethos a leading characteristic of Palestinian society. It treated base murderers as heroes; it played with fire and then fanned the flames. Now, though, Palestinian leaders find themselves facing a political firestorm.

A 79-year-old national leader cannot continue to be treated like a 9-year-old who isn’t responsible for his actions. The seemingly moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has led passive-aggressive moves in the past year that undermined regional stability. Willingly or not, the great illusionist from Ramallah may lead the Palestinian people to another disaster.

The third sin was committed by the international community. If a third intifada breaks out here, the responsibility will also lie on the world leadership of peace.

Striving for peace is not the same thing as preventing war. In certain conditions, an unrealistic attempt to achieve peace can lead to increased violence instead.

We saw it in 2000, and should have learned the lesson the second intifada taught us then. We were supposed to know that an irresponsible climb to the peace summit would end in a bone-breaking fall. But the world leadership didn’t see, didn’t remember, didn’t understand and didn’t internalize. It promoted a peace process that was completely cut off from reality and couldn’t have led to anything but a crash.

And when the process did crash, eight months ago, the peace leadership didn’t bother to replace it with an alternative peace process. It left behind a dangerous void that was filled by the 2014 Gaza war, which led to radicalization in both Israel and Palestine. The peace process intended to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last spring, but ended up triggering a chain of events that escalated the conflict and could lead us all to disaster.

There is still room to hope that a full-blown third intifada does not break out here, but the horrifying violence of the past week bodes ill.

The three sins of the last two years have created a reality that teeters on the brink of an abyss. In what may be the last possible moment, we must make a supreme effort to move away from that abyss. Let us learn the lessons these three sins should have taught us and choose an alternative route to peace.

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