Netanyahu and His Ministers Are Endangering the Public

Is ending the cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians one of the prime minister's primary goals? If so, it's hard to understand his ongoing incitement against Mahmoud Abbas.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in Jerusalem, November 18, 2014.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in Jerusalem, November 18, 2014.Credit: AFP
Haaretz Editorial

Tuesday's murder of five Israelis in a terror attack in Jerusalem is a tragedy. It’s hard to understand how human beings can be capable of entering a synagogue and shooting worshippers in cold blood. The ongoing tension in the city, the attempts by Jewish Knesset members to visit the Temple Mount, the real estate provocations of settlers in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan – none of these can serve as an excuse for a crime like the one committed on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, the violence and murderousness that have become part of the Jerusalem routine over the last few months also raise difficult questions about the conduct of Israel’s government. The most important question of all must be answered by the man who heads it. Is Benjamin Netanyahu’s aim really to prevent a recurrence of such tragedies? Is ending the bloody cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians one of his primary goals?

Assuming that it is, it’s hard to understand why he insists, over and over, on fingering Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as the person responsible for these acts of terror. What exactly does Netanyahu hope to achieve by such accusations? Does he really want to calm the situation, or is he perhaps exploiting the tragedy to continue demonizing the person who was supposed to be Israel’s partner for an agreement?

It seems the answer has been provided by members of his cabinet. When Naftali Bennett describes Abbas as “one the worst terrorists the Palestinian people has ever produced” and Avigdor Lieberman hastens to follow in his footsteps (Abbas “is deliberately turning the conflict into a religious one”), the current government’s true goal is revealed: deepening the rift with the Palestinians and torpedoing any possibility of a future agreement.

Against the background of these demagogic accusations, what Shin Bet security service chief Yoram Cohen told the Knesset on Tuesday takes on extra importance. Cohen rejected the claim that Abbas is involved in inflaming tempers. The PA president, he said, “isn’t interested in terror and isn’t causing terror, not even under the table.”

Cohen instead cited the July murder of Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir as a major catalyst of the clashes in Jerusalem, alongside the recent incidents on the Temple Mount. And he urged moderation, because “the religious dimension that the conflict is acquiring is very dangerous and explosive.”

Cohen’s professional opinion contradicts the ongoing incitement against Abbas by Netanyahu and his ministers. Their policy is a litany of irresponsibility to the public. They apparently cannot be expected to change their policy, but it must be clearly stated: These people — whether their refusal to see Abbas as a partner is guided by electioneering or ideology — are endangering the public.

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