J Street is horrified by the new wave of violence sweeping East Jerusalem and the Occupied West Bank following the abhorrent murders of four Israeli civilians in two shocking attacks on Friday and Saturday.
Let us be clear: there is no justification for the cold-blooded murder of Eitam and Naama Henkin, who were ambushed last Friday while driving with their four young children in the West Bank. The stabbing attacks that killed Aharon Bennett and Nehamia Lavi on Saturday, in which Bennett’s wife and young child were also wounded, were equally heinous.
At this time when leaders on both sides are called upon to act responsibly to restrain violence and calm the situation, we are deeply disturbed that both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are stoking tensions by playing to their own political bases and blaming the other side.
The result has been, and will be, more violence and perhaps even the eruption of a third Intifada – with catastrophic consequences for civilians on both sides. Indeed, even today we have seen two Palestinian teenagers killed in clashes with Israeli security forces and hundreds have been wounded including at least 36 hit by live ammunition fired by IDF forces trying to restore order.
We are deeply disappointed with the stance taken by the Palestinian leadership. Abbas and his fellow leaders have been slow to condemn the murders of civilians and have even, in some cases, appeared to justify them. Abbas has helped whip up tensions surrounding the Temple Mount, the Haram-al-Sharif. Calling for an international force to police the West Bank, as Abbas did on Sunday, may sound good but has no basis in reality and makes no contribution to calming the situation.
Netanyahu’s response, including hurling accusations at Abbas, threatening an “all-out war” to quell the violence, vowing to speed up collective punishments like the demolition of the homes of accused terrorists without due process and increased administrative detentions and banning Palestinians from the Old City of Jerusalem, will not solve the crisis and will likely make it worse. Strong measures within the law should be taken to ensure security. But we have seen over and over again that without a political mechanism to defuse the growing tensions, and without a serious effort to transform some of the underlying issues, crackdowns on the Palestinian civilian population do not lead to security or stability.
Extreme voices on both sides are contributing to and exploiting this crisis. Some Jewish settlers have attacked Palestinian ambulances and carried out other acts of revenge. On the Palestinian side, Hamas has celebrated the murders of Israeli civilians and is trying to stoke tensions aiming to embarrass and weaken Abbas and his Fatah party.
International actors, led by the United States and its European allies, must step in energetically, using all their influence to halt the cycle of violence before it spirals completely out of control. The international community and the United States government need to insist on meaningful action and compromises from both sides that would indicate a willingness to restore calm and cooperation in the short term, and to return to the pursuit of a negotiated two state solution – which continues to remain the only way to ultimately prevent these horrific clashes. We have already seen a tragic death toll – but much worse lies ahead without responsible leadership from all parties.