In what has almost become an annual ritual, an upsurge in violence has again put Jerusalem on edge. Originally centered on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount area in Jerusalem’s Old City, the clashes have now spread beyond, into the West Bank.
Israeli journalist Amos Harel wrote yesterday that Israeli-Palestinian security coordination, which both Israeli and American officials have repeatedly credited with reducing violence in the past years, could now be breaking down. “It’s possible… that the current model is nearing its end,” wrote Harel. “One of the reasons is the Palestinian sense of despair with respect to the diplomatic process, which has been expressed in Abbas’ recent speeches.”
Speaking at a symposium at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton — who as United States Security Coordinator oversaw the training of Palestinian security forces — warned that, in the absence of meaningful progress toward ending the occupation and creating a Palestinian state, Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation was in danger. “There is perhaps a two-year shelf life on being told that you’re creating a state, when you’re not,” he said. This was in 2009. Since then, the Palestinians have received little in return except for a more entrenched occupation, and the relentless growth of settlements.
In the absence of a genuine political process that can conceivably deliver any change, both sides are engaging in provocative behaviors designed to appeal to their respective political bases. Whether it is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declaring that the Palestinians are no longer bound by signed agreements; the head of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Tzipi Hotovely, bluntly stating that Israel will not leave the West Bank no matter what the Palestinians do; or the inflammatory rhetoric on both sides about Jerusalem’s holy sites, there is a real danger of the violence escalating even further out of control. The international community must demand an end not only to violence, but also to the occupation that drives it, and back that demand up with action.
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While both Israeli and Palestinian leaders continue to engage in unhelpful rhetoric, it’s important to recognize that the occupation itself is the most effective form of incitement there is. This reality is often overlooked in the day-to-day news coverage of the conflict, in which violence often tends to be reported as a problem only when it impacts Israelis.
The spread of violence, with the loss of civilian lives on both sides, is unavoidable as long as Palestinians live under a system in which they are denied basic rights, and no political process to give them a hope for a better future. The Israeli and Palestinian leadership, as well as the United States and its international partners, have all failed to provide that hope. All of these parties share responsibility to stem the tide of violence, and all of them have to work together to resolve this conflict, end the occupation and bring peace and security to Israelis and Palestinians.
To this end, it is particularly important for the United States, as Israel’s key ally and patron, to begin articulating consequences for Israel’s continued occupation and settlement construction, which violate both international law and specific commitments Israel has made to the U.S. In the absence of such consequences, we should only expect more of the same: a deepening occupation, more settlements, and periodic upsurges in violence year after year after year.