Without hope, Palestinian radicalism will only grow
The recent series of attacks in Israel and the violent response to them, including the use of extrajudicial killings against Palestinians on Palestinian lands, is very sad. But those in power have an obligation to find ways to give people hope in order to break this unending cycle of violence. This cannot be done by assigning blame but rather by changing the people’s mindset from that of desperation and helplessness to that of hope and anticipation of a better future.
During every meeting senior Palestinian officials have held with Israeli officials, one issue was continuously stated: We need a political horizon. We cannot just talk about economic issues and work permits. Our people want to know where we are going. This was the first thing officials like Hussein Al-Sheikh repeatedly told me and other journalists after meeting with their Israeli counterparts.
The Americans made the very same argument and Washington also spoke loudly about the dangers caused by Jewish settler violence and their terrorizing of Palestinians. But there was no Israeli response to the pleas made by the Palestinians and Americans.
The need for a political horizon did not come from thin air and is not a theoretical issue. The prime minister of Israel boasts in the White House and in front of US Jewish groups that he insists on not meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and not talking about the political process. By refusing any political process, the Israeli government is telling 5.5 million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories (which includes Gaza and East Jerusalem) that they must give up hope for freedom, that the Israeli occupation will continue forever, and that they will eternally be controlled by a government that discriminates between Palestinians and non-Palestinians between the river and the sea.
Palestinian and Israeli leadership takes one of two forms. There are those who genuinely want peace, understand that peace means deep political compromise and are not deterred by radicals and their abhorrent actions. On the other hand, there are those who believe in the zero-sum game and have no interest in any compromise. If they are genuine in their beliefs, those belonging to the first group need to insist on refusing to allow radicals to change their path. The current situation shows us, unfortunately, that the second group uses the other side’s radicals to achieve their absolutist goals.
Whether one likes it or not, we have in Ramallah today a Palestinian leader of the first group, while in Tel Aviv there is sadly a leadership of the second group. For one short period, there were leaders in Israel who belonged to the first group, but they are no longer in power.
Palestinian leader Abbas has refused strong internal pressure to change. He was pressed to end the security cooperation with Israel but he refused. What was the reward for this courageous act? It was seen as a weakness and has been exploited by the right wing in Israel to make further gains in terms of Palestinian land and rights. There has been an increase in settler violence and the provocations in Sheikh Jarrah and Al-Aqsa Mosque continue.
In Israel today, there is a coalition government headed by a person who has publicly boasted that he is not even interested in meeting with the Palestinian leadership, let alone negotiating a serious compromise. So, when radicals act, the Israeli leadership doubles down and makes things even worse.
In Arabic, there is a saying, “Fil harakeh barakah” (in movement, there is a blessing). The political and diplomatic movement of the peace process would certainly be a blessing. Of course, this does not mean that what is needed is a fake movement of the peace process, as there was for years under Benjamin Netanyahu.
In such a politically charged atmosphere, in which people have little to lose, it is necessary to understand that nothing happens in a vacuum. Israelis clearly do not know what is happening in the Occupied Territories, where Israel is responsible for every facet of Palestinian life.
In such a politically charged atmosphere, in which people have little to lose, it is necessary to understand that nothing happens in a vacuum.
For the record and according to the UN, in 2022 alone, 15 Palestinians, including children, have been killed and 1,733 injured by Israeli forces; 128 Palestinian-owned structures have been demolished; 95 Palestinians have been displaced; there have been three Israeli incursions into Gaza; and Israeli settlers have committed 93 attacks against Palestinians. In the past month alone, Israeli forces have shot and killed three Palestinians, including two children. Palestinian life has continued to be dominated by the Israeli occupation.
But this cycle of violence should not be allowed to continue spinning out of control. There is a need for courageous politicians who are willing to make difficult decisions for the future of the two peoples.
What we need is a genuine effort to move the peace process toward its natural conclusion of ending the Israeli occupation and the illegal colonial settlement enterprise that is chipping away at Palestinian lands. Every Palestinian sees the settlements grow and the settlers get more violent, while the Israeli politicians avoid any effort to make peace, and they are frustrated. The absence of hope is the most powerful motivation for radicalization.
- Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Twitter: @daoudkuttab