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Violence is the strongest imperative to keep fighting for peace

With no peace process on the horizon, the terrorist attack in Tel Aviv this week is a reminder that we don’t have the luxury of giving up on a future in which Palestinians and Israelis alike can feel secure in their own homes, streets and cafes.

Police crime scene investigators at the scene of a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market, June 8, 2016. (Israel Police Spokesperson)

Police investigators at the scene of a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market, June 8, 2016. (Israel Police Spokesperson)

Almost six years ago, Hillary Clinton was getting ready to oversee the first face-to-face between Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas in the Obama administration’s initial foray into Middle East peacemaking. Secretary of State Clinton’s road to just getting the two sides to sit down together had been long and hard, including extracting a nine-month settlement freeze from Netanyahu.

Three days before the sides were supposed to meet for the first time, however, Hamas carried out a terrorist attack that left four Israeli civilians dead. A day later, the militant Islamist group launched another attack, this time wounding two more civilians. Hamas made very clear, the point was to derail the peace talks.

After the first attack on August 31, 2010, I wrote that Hamas was becoming what conflict resolution practitioners call a spoiler group, in this case a stakeholder that has been excluded from a peace process and therefore tries to use violence to sabotage it. Despite the danger posed by Hamas, extremist Israeli settlers and other spoiler groups, I argued at the time that the prospects of peace were worth the danger posed by violent opposition to the process.

Then U.S. Secretary of State Clinton at a meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, September 15, 2010. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Then U.S. Secretary of State Clinton at a meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, September 15, 2010. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

That was then. Fast-forward six years and there is no peace process in sight. There hasn’t been one for a long time, and despite the semblance of renewed movement expressed through the Paris summit and Netanyahu’s thus-far failed attempts to re-write the Arab Peace Initiative (API), there is nothing to indicate that the Israeli and Palestinian leadership will be sitting down to start mapping a negotiated settlement anytime soon. (Ben Caspit explains pretty succinctly why nobody should take Netanyahu’s API gesture seriously.)

Intellectually it is almost impossible to find hope in the current political stalemate. Given the choice between bringing the left-leaning, two-state supporting Labor Party into his government, Netanyahu instead chose to strengthen his existing coalition with hardliner Avigdor Liberman and annexationist Naftali Bennett, who has vowed to do everything in his power to prevent Palestinian statehood. Mahmoud Abbas, who the Israeli Left and much of the international community long ago ordained as the last partner for peace Israel will ever have, has lost whatever shreds of a democratic and popular mandate he has been grasping on to for the past few years.

Both societies are radicalizing, both support the use of violence against the other, and both fear violence from the other. Recent polls have indicated that more than half of Jewish Israelis support extra-judicial executions of terror suspects, and almost as many expressed support for the ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Israel. Among the Palestinian public, meanwhile, a recent poll found that over half of the population supports a return to an armed intifada in the absence of peace negotiations.

The current violence, the worst of which we saw this week in Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market, is not a carefully calculated attempt to derail a peace process; it is also not an excuse for despair. Violence is the strongest reason to keep working for peace, to keep fighting for peace, to keep hoping for peace. If we stop fighting for a future in which Palestinians and Israelis alike feel secure in their own homes, streets, cafes and city squares, then we are resigning ourselves to a future of senseless violence, wars, bombings, and desperate and polarized youth who see less and less humanity in each other with each passing year. If we stop fighting for peace, then we are resigning ourselves to another 49 years of military occupation and violence.

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    COMMENTS

    1. i_like_ike52

      What he says here would seem to make a lot of sense. However, it is NOT “despair over the lack of progress in the ‘peace process'” that is the engine for terrorism. The biggest wave of terrorism during the whole Oslo period occurred at the HEIGHT of the negotiations and in the wake of large Israeli concessions. In 1996, right after the Israeli withdrawal of forces from the Palestinian cities there was a big wave of bloody suicide bombings. This played a direct role in Netanyahu’s election victory over Peres who was the big champion of the peace process. The next big wave occurred starting in 2000 in the wake of Barak’s offer to Arafat of an independent Palestinian state. The motive for those carrying out the attacks was NOT to “derail” the peace process but to ACCELERATE it. The terrorist organizations say “they are already making concessions, more terror will bring more concessions” as indeed happened when Sharon destroyed Gush Katif in the wake of the big wae of terrorist attacks. The so-called “peace process” and terrorism go hand-in-hand.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        I think the temporal associations you make are simplistic and leave out critical factors and are not causal associations at all. Here is a counter narrative. Noam Sheizaf pointed out that it is Israel that only listens to violence, with tragic, repetitious consequences for all:
        http://972mag.com/why-do-we-only-listen-to-violence/117773/

        Reply to Comment
    2. Mark

      “Mahmoud Abbas, who the Israeli Left and much of the international community long ago ordained as the last partner for peace Israel will ever have, has lost whatever shreds of a democratic and popular mandate he has been grasping on to for the past few years.”

      Personally I do not feel it is possible to negotiate with a person who has no democratic legitimacy.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        “negotiations” are only meaningful between parties that are roughly equal in power; “negotiations” between Palestinians and Israelis are an absurd idea.

        Reply to Comment
        • Tommy Goldberg

          True enough, Bruce, but where does that leave us? To make negotiations feasible, the Israelis side would have to significantly weakened or the Palestinian position would have to be significantly strengthened.

          I think we can all agree that decades-long attempts to strengthen the Palestinian side through funneling hundreds of billions to the PA and the “NGO-isation” of civil resistance have failed dramatically. What could we do differently to strengthen the Palestinian position?

          So that appears to leave two options: to significantly weaken the Israeli position — or to force unconditional surrender by one side. Assuming no-one here is contemplating the latter, how do you propose the former — without a huge nationalist backlash that prompts a digging-in and will virtually guarantee a continuation of the conflict for decades?

          Personally I agree that Israel should simply relinquish its claims on the occupied territories, but we don’t assume that is going to happen out of a desire to do the right thing, no?

          Except the few hasbara trolls, we all know what should be done. But what CAN be done?

          Reply to Comment