Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party.
Dani Dayan is a happy warrior: formerly head of the Israeli settlers’ umbrella organisation, the Yesha Council, he described to me the Israeli-Palestinian conflict thus: “we have fought four times over the same land, according to their rules,” He didn’t add, “and each time we won,” but whenever the Palestinians have fought Israel they have been defeated.
This latest uprising mostly takes the form of stabbings by residents of East Jerusalem. (Israel considers this territory its own, and it, not the Palestinian Authority, is in charge there). The attackers know they are unlikely to return alive from their missions and the Israeli authorities give every evidence of helping them on their way.
This campaign of low level terrorism fits a standard pattern: provoke the authorities into overreacting. For all the rough justice there may be in killing men as they try to murder, it is obvious that it will backfire. Israel’s security forces have fallen into the trap. Far better to arrest, try them and imprison the attackers so they become symbols of the futility of political violence, than to leave them martyrs with angry families. We don’t yet know who has instigated and fanned this as yet minor uprising (it was not Mahmoud Abbas) but they have enlisted the Israeli authorities in their campaign of recruitment.
Useful though it may be for a budding terrorist campaign to inflame young men to go on suicide missions pour radicaliser les autres it will do no good for the Palestinians or their cause. Where a solid majority of Israelis once wanted to to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, a large section are now indifferent. They don’t sympathise with Dayan’s programme to prosecute the conflict until the Israelis gain control of the entire West Bank; they may even be a little uncomfortable with it, but they won’t bestir themselves to fight for a people that used to blow them up on buses and now stabs them on bus stops. “There is no partner for peace” they shrug, and get on with their lives.
Some on the Israeli left have taken to calling this “the bubble” of efficient security measures that allow Israelis to go about a normal life and ignore their Palestinian neighbours: “we could be in Marseilles” is the sort of thing that they can be heard to say. They hope for something that will force the Israeli Government to reconsider and find in international isolation a policy to sustain it.
In doing so, they commit what we might term the North London (or North Tel Aviv) fallacy: thinking that people just like them are the only ones that exist. Far from being, as the ideology would have it, the source of instability in the Middle East, Israel is energetically supporting the status quo. It works closely with Jordan and Egypt, and is in de facto anti-Iranian alliance with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. As we saw during the last Gaza war, as long as Israel doesn’t do anything too egregious, Arab states won’t put diplomatic pressure on the West to force changes in Israeli policy because Iran, Assad, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood are more immediate common enemies. Expect little pressure directly from the West, too. Much was made about blocking certain British arms exports to Israel during the last war: that was a smokescreen. British arms imports are far more significant. And even if international isolation were to be arranged, it is unlikely to have the desired effect. Everywhere else, sanctions reinforce a siege mentality. To imagine Israel would be any different is wishful thinking.
What then for the Israeli peace camp? Its most important task is to find itself a leader who does not appear condescending to ordinary Israelis. That done, it stands a chance of prevailing in an election. In the meantime it should focus on protecting the rule of law, under attack from extremist elements of Israel’s governing coalition. Palestinians need to make far more radical changes. They are still too focused on symbols, while Dayan builds “facts on the ground”. East Jerusalem is in reality an opportunity. Its residents have the right to vote in the city’s elections, though most boycott them because they don’t recognise Israeli rule. If they did vote, they would hold the balance of power in the city. They can also apply in far greater numbers than they currently do for Israeli citizenship, which would give them the right to vote in Israeli elections, and tilt the results in favour of returning to a peace process, after which East Jerusalem could be Palestine’s capital.
These would be incredibly difficult steps for them to take. They would be accused of selling out their brothers in the West Bank and Gaza. They would face threats and intimidation from Palestinians uncomfortable with what they could consider disloyalty. There would be fears that it could legitimise Israeli rule over the whole city, and renaming this change of strategy a “democratic intifada” probably wouldn’t dispel them. But Palestinians’ current strategy of asymmetric war has failed for 70 years. They need to try something new, before it is too late.