The images of burnt out cars and homes in Hawara, West Bank, sent shivers down my spine. Was this a prelude to another intifada; have tensions between Israelis and Palestinians reached such a pitch of animosity that any meaningful dialogue is dead; and what of the IDF’s apparent indifference to the West Bank settlers’ wonton violence? The Palestinian Authority is unable to control a number of cities on the West Bank and its ability to curb the upsurge in attacks by Palestinians on Israelis reinforces its weakened position.
One can say in Israel’s defense that those Palestinians inspired by Hamas and Hezbollah provoke a strong reaction from Israel’s military, whose principal concern is the security of the country and its citizens. Yes, we know from frequent footage that after Friday’s prayers Palestinian youths take to the streets to pelt the security forces with stones. And yes, the military do not remain passive but often respond when life and property are endangered. The history of Northern Ireland gives some idea of what the police and army are up against when combatting terrorism. It is so easy to preach to others how they should behave when one is removed from the violence.
As long as Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran continue their war against Israel there can be no peace. Under Ariel Sharon the first steps were taken to invite moderate Palestinians to engage in a land-for-peace process. Gaza may have been a unique opportunity for the Palestinians to demonstrate their desire for the creation of a two-state solution to nearly sixty years of hostility. Sadly, the moderates were squeezed out by extremists and Gaza became a springboard for attacks on Israel, scuppering any chance of a negotiated peace settlement. To many Israelis the idea of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank is regarded as a prescription for suicide. There can be no guarantees that the government of such a state would not be hijacked by Hamas, capable of raining down missiles on Israeli towns and cities.
Israel is being “needled” to respond to Palestinian attacks but its responses must be proportionate and certainly not to turn a blind eye to the excesses of settlers. If the West Bank is to be a permanent part of what some call “greater Israel”, then it must be policed effectively to protect settlers and Palestinians and avoid the reprehensible behavior of the lawlessness witnessed in Hawara. Israel prides itself on being a democratic, liberal society, and by allowing incidents where settlers can go on the rampage, admittedly after innocent people had been murdered, its credibility to act justly will be called into question. The police and IDF have to behave, in the face of considerable violence, dispassionately. On occasions there will be clashes between the IDF and settlers, where the latter are in the wrong; but that is the price for maintaining law and order: “justice is blind”. However, whatever the Netanyahu government’s future plans are for quelling spiraling violence on both sides of the conflict, there have to be new initiatives if a damaging intifada is to be avoided, a situation damaging to Israelis and Palestinians.