Following a series of violent and sometimes fatal attacks precipitated by the attempted assassination of Yehuda Glick and the closure of the Al Aqsa mosque complex on the Temple Mount, clashes broke out between Palestinian protesters and the Israeli police once again on Friday. The Jerusalem Post reports:
Dozens of Palestinian activists approached a point near the security barrier between Israel and the West Bank town of Kalandiya on Friday morning, and allegedly attempted to try to cross the wall. […]Security forces were deployed across Jerusalem and other flashpoint areas after authorities decided not to place an age restriction on Muslim worshipers attending Friday prayers at the Temple Mount complex.After a relatively quiet morning in Jerusalem, demonstrations began to erupt in Israeli Arab towns and the West Bank.
The ongoing protests have coincided with a series of murders of Israelis by Palestinians, including two deaths this past week. Palestinian casualties have been mounting as well with at least one dead and dozens wounded in the past few days.The New York Times is already calling these events a “leaderless revolt” and a “smoldering, improvised intifada.” But in Israel itself the debate is understandably more pressing and more heated and, typically, polarized.The center-left view, represented by Haaretz, views the violence as the result of a provocation by Netanyahu’s government. In an editorial on Wednesday Haaretz wrote:
Netanyahu’s modus operandi is always the same: He does everything in his power to torpedo any possible agreement with the Palestinians, and then exploits the frustration created by his rejectionism to inflame the atmosphere. He sets absurd preconditions for beginning negotiations (like recognizing Israel as the Jews’ nation state), and then, after the Palestinian frustration has become tangible in the streets, “invites everyone who demonstrates against Israel and in favor of the Palestinian state to move there; we won’t put any obstacles in your path.”Netanyahu systematically reverses cause and effect. His goal is to portray the aggressor as the victim and the victim as the aggressor.
The Israeli right, on the other hand, view this as the result of the Palestinian failure to defeat Israel in this most recent war, or any war, and of their responding instead, as usual, by killing Jews. As such these killings are simply a continuation of the Gaza war by other means. A Jerusalem Post editorial puts it this way:
The violence is not driven by an attempt to improve the lives of Palestinians. The desire to revenge the deaths of Gazans killed in this summer’s Operation Protective Edge and the police’s killing of Kheir a-Din Hamdan in Kafr Kana last Friday is part of the equation. But the underlying source of the terrorism – which also precipitated this summer’s Gaza operation – is a violently reactionary Islamic triumphalism that says non-Muslims – particularly Zionists – are vile interlopers in a consecrated land.
Frustratingly, both views are correct. Even the most moderate of Palestinians will view Yahuda Glick’s protest movement, and the Netanyahu government’s tacit approval of that movement, as anything other than a provocation designed to upset the longstanding status quo on the Temple Mount. The announcement of new construction in politically sensitive neighborhoods of East Jerusalem raised the temperature even more. None of this justifies the attempt on Glick’s life, of course, but the materials for some kind of explosive violence were clearly piling up. The subsequent closure of the Al Aqsa complex was likewise, and quite predictably, bound to stir up a violent response.But the murders that have taken place in the past weeks were not just a spontaneous Palestinian response to Israeli actions. For one thing, the first attacks began before the attempt on Glick’s life and were unconnected to his movement. Moreover, several of the perpetrators were members of or had connections to Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The New York Times is right when it says that these attacks are “leaderless” in the sense that there seems to be no high-level coordination behind them, but leaderless is not the same thing as directionless. The perpetrators have a clear direction—to kill Jews in Israel and carry out the same un-winnable battles that radical Palestinian militants have been waging since the 1930s.A return to negotiations on the two state solution, welcome as that would be for other reasons, can’t be expected to stop attacks of this kind. Indeed, any progress toward serious negotiations might spur further attacks by groups like Islamic Jihad who have a vested interest in blocking any peace accord. At the same time, it’s hard to see what Israel gains by decisions that increase the likelihood of more violence. With the whole Middle East in flames, and with radical religious violence sweeping through neighboring states, Israeli leaders would be well advised to avoid steps that generate violence and play into the hands of radical groups trying to increase their influence in the West Bank and among Arabs in Israel proper.Israelis claim Jerusalem as their capital and don’t like having foreigners try to tell them what to do there. This is perfectly understandable, but the status quo that has been disrupted is a status quo that previous Israeli governments established and maintained, regardless of party. The burden rests with the Netanyahu government to explain the shift, and to take responsibility for the consequences.