Editorial

Electioneering on the Verge of Conflagration

Israel's security forces have warned the security cabinet of the potential for a conflagration, but facing these assessments and proposals is a governmental vacuum that is conducting a political campaign for its survival

An Israeli soldier holds his weapon during clashes with Palestinians at a protest against Jewish settlements in the village of Oref, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank February 15, 2019.
\ MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/ REUTERS

In the State of Israel’s backyard, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, signs of a potential new uprising are increasing. The clashes at Bab al-Rahma in Jerusalem’s Old City and along the border with Gaza are the public expression of this volatile situation. But no less dangerous are the economic pressures; Israel halting tax transfers that make up an important part of the Palestinian Authority’s income; the freeze in American aid and the growing unemployment, which each day forces more young Palestinians into poverty.

The Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service, which are closely monitoring these sparks, have already warned the security cabinet of the potential for a conflagration, and are urging the government to ease the conditions for employment in Israel and to release funds to reduce the growing tension. But facing these assessments and proposals is a governmental vacuum that is conducting a political campaign for its survival.

Such a government, led by a prime minister and defense minister preoccupied with managing his legal entanglements and mobilizing his skills to defend himself against political, legal and media demons, may not notice the threat to state security or may ignore the warnings from the security professionals.

Now that damaging the Palestinian economic infrastructure has become a political strategy of the right, and competition among the right-wing parties revolves around appeasing the settlers, Judaizing East Jerusalem and remaining “steadfast” against withdrawal from occupied territory, the serious implications of this strategy for state security make little impression on the decision makers. Even worse, the lack of confidence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judgment raises suspicions that he may view a military flare-up as an electoral lifeline.

A large-scale violent confrontation is not inevitable. Even without a comprehensive peace process, Israel has ways and means available to reduce the tension. Just as in contradiction to its previous principles, Israel has allowed Qatar to stream tens of millions of dollars into Gaza to calm the violent outbreaks, it can adopt the recommendations of security officials to increase the number of permits for Palestinians to work in Israel, facilitate the transfer of goods and building materials to Gaza, and aid in attracting investors to develop infrastructure in the West Bank.

The IDF has made it clear it is ready for any war scenario and the chief of staff has ordered preparations made for a conflict with Gaza, but Israeli leaders must not deceive the public into thinking such a confrontation is unavoidable and trumpet the backing that U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is giving Israel.

The Israeli government must prove to the public it is taking the threat of a flare-up seriously and immediately use all civilian means at its disposal to dispel it.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.