TEL AVIV, Israel ( Associated Press) – Three deadly attacks in Israel in a week raise questions about Israel’s approach to its conflict with the Palestinians, after years of trying to set aside the issue and instead focus on other regional priorities .
The attacks by Palestinian attackers, including most recently Tuesday night, killed 11 people in the deadliest wave Israel has seen in years. They come because peace negotiations over the end of Israel’s rule over Palestinians and the establishment of a Palestinian state on occupied lands are a distant memory. Meanwhile, Israel has shifted its priorities to curbing arch-enemy Iran and building local Arab alliances.
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The Israeli government, with the support of the Biden administration, has tried to do what leaders describe as “shrinking” the conflict. Instead of seeking a separation agreement with the Palestinians, it aims to keep things quiet by taking steps to improve the Palestinian economy and reduce friction.
But now, as Israel faces the possibility of another cycle of violence less than a year after a war with Hamas militants in Gaza, the Palestinian issue is once again making its way back to the forefront, exposing the weaknesses of this approach.
This was a message that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was trying to convey when he condemned Tuesday night’s shooting in the central city of Bnei Brak.
“Permanent, comprehensive and just peace is the shortest way to provide security and stability for the Palestinian and Israeli peoples and the people of the region,” he said. Israel has long sidelined Abbas, calling him an unacceptable partner for peace talks.
Israel sees the current wave as another round of extremist violence aimed at its existence. It blames incitement on Palestinian social media, says Hamas encourages violence and points to a flood of weapons available in Palestinian communities.
In Tuesday’s attack, a 27-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank methodically shot dead and killed five. Sunday night, a shooting attack by two Islamic State sympathizers in the central city of Hadera killed two police officers. Last week, a combined car ram and stabbing attack in the southern city of Beersheba – also inspired by an IS-inspired attacker – killed four people.
The two earlier attacks were carried out by Palestinian citizens of Israel; in all three incidents, the attackers were killed by police or passersby.
The violence has stunned Israelis, who have enjoyed relative silence since last year’s 11-day war with Hamas. It also overshadowed a historic rally this week in the Negev desert that saw for the first time how the foreign ministers of four Arab countries met their Israeli and American counterparts on Israeli soil. And although the foreign ministers – from Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Morocco – gave lip service to the Palestinian issue, the meeting centered on the emerging nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. The Palestinians were not invited.
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In response to the violence, Israel has increased its security presence in Israeli cities and the occupied West Bank. It made arrests in Arab communities and raided the West Bank home of the man who carried out Tuesday’s attack.
“We are dealing with a new wave of terror,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said. “As in other waves, we will triumph.”
But there are no signs that Bennett is willing to address the deeper issues that fuel the conflict.
Bennett heads a clumsy coalition of ideologically diverse parties – including an Islamic Arab faction – that has united with the aim of overthrowing former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. To survive, the coalition agreed to put divisive issues aside, especially the conflict with the Palestinians, and instead focus on issues in the Israeli consensus, such as the pandemic and the economy.
The US ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, has repeatedly called the new government “a beautiful thing”. Washington, focused on the war in Ukraine and tensions with China, has indicated that it has no plans to pursue a peace plan and would rather lay the groundwork for future talks one day.
With his grip, Bennett and his government did not deviate from Netanyahu, who accepted the concept of Palestinian statehood contrary to intense American pressure, but did little to advance the idea.
The Palestinians, in turn, drew disappointing parallels with the war in Ukraine, lamenting that the West had quickly gathered against Russia’s aggression and had not yet moved to sanction Israel for its 55-year occupation.
Meanwhile, Israel has deepened its control of the West Bank with its web of checkpoints and barricades, and hundreds of thousands of Israelis living in Jewish settlements. The Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza continues. The last substantive peace talks took place a decade and a half ago. The Palestinians are looking for a future state for the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War.
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The Bennett government has apparently learned some lessons from last year, when a series of missteps over the Muslim holy month of Ramadan boiled over in the Gaza war.
This year, as major Muslim, Jewish and Christian holidays gather, Israel has offered to ease a series of restrictions on Palestinians ahead of Ramadan, which begins this weekend.
Israel has issued thousands of work permits to Gaza workers, lifted a ban on family visits to Palestinian prisoners from Gaza and said it would not restrict Palestinian rallies around Jerusalem’s Old City like last year.
A rare visit by the King of Jordan to Palestinian leaders in the West Bank this week, followed by visits to the King by Israel’s Defense Minister and President on Wednesday, was aimed at strengthening calm.
The increase in violence could put the new measures in jeopardy.
King Abdullah II told Isaac Herzog, the visiting Israeli president, that he condemned the bloodshed, but that any regional progress “should include our Palestinian brothers.”
Many Palestinians say the real purpose of Israel’s measures is to maintain the status quo, in which millions live under a decade-long military occupation with no end in sight.
“They are handing out small privileges through a pipette,” said Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser to the Palestinian leadership. “The Israelis have long taken the position that Palestinians do not deserve rights, that we do not want rights, that it is just a matter of us being bought off, of getting few permits here and there.”
Any solution to the Palestinian conflict is hampered by a years-long rift between Abbas’ Fatah movement and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and calls for Israel’s destruction. And with two of the last three attacks carried out by Israeli citizens, Israel can now be forced to take into account a minority population riddled with violent crime and long suffering from discrimination.
In Israel, some argue that even Palestinian state capture would not end the conflict.
The Palestinians “will never accept Israel as a Jewish state. “The fight for them is for the whole of Israel,” Yitzhak Gershon, a retired military major general, told Israeli Army Radio.
Meanwhile, several legal groups have described Israeli rule between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean as an apartheid system.
Omar Shakir of the international group Human Rights Watch stressed that no grievance justifies the killing of innocent people. He added: “The reality is that it is unsustainable to continue to rule over millions of people who have been deprived of their fundamental rights.”
Associated Press author Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem contributed to this report.