Calming the “cycle of violence” that has taken Israeli and Palestinian lives and set the two communities closer than ever to the abyss since the last intifada will require a level of leadership that few believe either Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or President Mahmoud Abbas possesses. While both men have called for calm, each has put the blame entirely on the other party — in a clear display of different messages for different constituencies.
But regardless of the motivations, finger pointing and name calling are not tactics that will defuse a situation that appears to be spiraling out of control.
“Is this the Third Intifada?” many have wondered — meaning, is this another top-down Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation? Netanyahu wasn’t ready to go that far. He has said Israel is facing a “wave of terror” that is mostly unorganized. Analysts also noted that Abbas has directed the Palestinian Authority police to keep working with Israelis on security.
Still, the Hamas terror group has called for an intifada in the West Bank.
Civilians on both sides must be protected from violence. And that requires the judicious application of security measures coupled with a lowering of rhetoric from all corners, particularly from the Palestinian leader, who continually blames, without evidence, Jewish bogeymen seeking to imperil a Muslim presence on the Temple Mount.
The Temple Mount-related accusations appear to be the immediate cause of the surge in Palestinian violence that has claimed several Israeli lives. And Abbas appears to know exactly what he is doing when making those kinds of accusations in an atmosphere that has been looking for a spark since the failure of Israel and the Palestinians to reach a settlement in last year’s U.S.-backed peace negotiations.
So, what is the answer? While many voices are proposing a return to some form of talks, most people in the region and beyond rightfully view a return to the old ways of an overzealous State Department seeking a deal at any costs as a fool’s errand. Particularly since neither Netanyahu nor Abbas appears to have the political backing — or even the desire — to reach a settlement, that assessment seems right. But with no hope of a settlement and the interactions that flow from such efforts, what will bring the calm we all pray for?
The burden here clearly shifts to leadership. We in no way equate the terrorism against innocent Israelis with the security measures that Israel is taking against the Palestinians to protect its citizens, but at the same time, we decry those who triumph moral certitude at a time when concrete actions rooted in a recognition of practical reality can defuse tensions. While this may not be a Third Intifada, it could become one if cooler heads do not prevail.