Israel must ask itself some difficult questions before engaging with Palestinians
Following the attack that killed seven Israelis in a settlement in East Jerusalem last week, Gideon Levy stated in an opinion piece in Haaretz newspaper on Sunday: “What were you thinking? That the killing of 146 Palestinians in the West Bank in 2022, according to B’Tselem, most of them noncombatants, would be meekly accepted? That the killing of about 30 people in the month to date would pass quietly?”
What was Itamar Ben-Gvir thinking? Was he thinking that the Palestinians would just leave; that he could instigate another Nakba and people would just leave? Actually, people will not leave. They will respond. They will resist a plan to displace them and their reaction will be violent.
The information the Benjamin Netanyahu-led government has tried to take out of the attack is out of context. They try to show it as a terrorist act that is disconnected from what is happening on the ground. They try to disconnect it from the killings that happened in Jenin. The attack was unanimously condemned at the UN Security Council, while world leaders rushed to express condemnation and express solidarity with the Israeli people. Netanyahu said that he would strengthen the settlements, give more gun licenses to settlers and, of course, more houses would be demolished. But does this solve the problem?
Peace activist Daniel Seidemann posted a video of a certain Hananya Naftali responding to the attack by saying that the Palestinians have to know that “this is our land not yours.” Seidemann, in his tweet, said that this person scares him because of the “zeitgeist” he represents, the mentality of people like Ben-Gvir that want to forcefully kick Palestinians out of their homes. The UN reported 849 settler attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank in 2022. Facing those attacks, what should be the Palestinians’ reaction? It is very ironic, however, that the young boy who committed the attack was the grandson of a Palestinian who was stabbed to death by a Jewish settler in 1998. Does that tell you anything?
Condemning the attack in the East Jerusalem settlement is not enough. Actually, it has no meaning beyond a futile narrative. Solving the roots of the problem is what is needed. Will that be possible with the current government, which has as one of its primary goals extending settlements?
Ben-Gvir is doing his best to provoke Palestinians. What does he want? What is his endgame? To annex the West Bank and kick out the Palestinians to Jordan? The Palestinians will not leave. They learned their lesson in 1948 and 1967. As has been said before, all those pogroms will only increase the Palestinians’ tenacity and attachment to their land.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on a trip trying to revive the defunct two-state solution. However, he does not have any interlocutors. The Palestinian Authority is incapacitated, hence is not an interlocutor. On the Israeli side, there is a prime minister whose main objective is to remain out of prison. Hence, he himself is hostage to the extremists like Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.
On the other hand, the Abraham Accords have proven to be ineffective in deterring Israel from its unjust policies toward the Palestinians. Israel will increase its transgressions in the Occupied Territories and try to use its information machinery to portray any response as an act driven by hatred for the Jews. But where does it end? What do people like Ben-Gvir and Naftali, who are representative of the growing far right in Israel, want?
Condemning the attack in the East Jerusalem settlement is not enough. Solving the roots of the problem is what is needed
Dr. Dania Koleolat Khatib
The main objective of prior Israeli governments was to maintain the status quo. They knew that the status quo was their best bet. Removing the settlements and allowing the establishment of a functioning Palestinian state would bring about internal problems. Annexation was also a problem because it meant confrontation with the international community and disregard of all concepts of democracy, while Israel brags about being the only democracy in the Middle East. Their best option was to freeze the conflict while paying lip service to the international community, insisting that Israel wants a two-state solution.
At the same time, Israel has the Palestinian Authority, which has no authority of its own, to help it keep the Palestinians under control. That seemed like the best solution to evade or postpone the important question that the Israelis have to one day ask themselves: Who are we and what do we want to be? As simple as it seems, this is a very difficult question to answer.
In order to stop this escalation and before addressing the Palestinians, Israel should ask itself: What do we as Israelis want? Once they answer this question, they should ask another one. Does demolishing Palestinian homes and kicking people out in order to build settlements achieve this goal? So far, the Palestinians have not shown any intention of leaving their land. They will stay and they will persist. So, what will Israel gain? More bloodshed, a more militarized society and then what? Also, Israel should be careful that public opinion is changing. Let them look at the coverage of The New York Times to predict the trend.
It might be difficult to use this reasoning with ideologues like Ben-Gvir. However, even those who sounded reasonable and pragmatic, like Yair Lapid, did not have the courage to take any decisions while they were in power. Where does this leave the Israelis? It leaves them in the midst of an escalation that will only postpone their need to ask this existential question: Who are we? Before facing the Palestinians, the Israelis should face themselves and decide who they want to be. Without collectively making up their minds on who they want to be, they cannot have any discussions with the Palestinians.
- Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is president of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese nongovernmental organization focused on Track II.