Spike in Violence Poses Test for Israel’s Fragile Government

BNEI BRAK, Israel – A recent wave of terrorist attacks in Israel, the deadliest in seven years, have presented a clear challenge to Israel’s fragile coalition government, which has already stumbled criticism from both sides of the policies that critics say complicates the risk of violence.

On the right, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has been criticized for bringing an Arab party into the coalition, a decision that right-wing critics say has reduced the state’s readiness for Arab minority police. Israel and limited its ability to respond to recent attacks, two of which were carried out by Israeli Arab nationals.

On the left, Mr. Bennett has been criticized for making small concessions to the Palestinians while rejecting peace talks or any move to create a Palestinian state – an approach that critics say. Left-wing commentators say it has increased Palestinian despair, encouraging a minority to respond with violence.

Mr. Bennett is also limited in his options for responding to violence by the composition of his ideologically diverse coalition, an eight-party coalition that includes far-rights like Mr. centrist, leftist and a small Arab Muslim party, Raam – the first independent Arab party to join the Israeli government. Ten months into their tenure, the coalition has consistently found ways to bridge their differences, but the violence has highlighted gaps in their worldview.

The attacks that killed 11 people in 10 days are also a reminder that no matter how much Israelis want the problem to go away so they can live in peace, as polls show they do, Palestinian questions remain unanswered and a barrel of powder potential.

Mr. Bennett, like his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, has taken the issue to the next level, viewing conflict as an issue that needs to be contained rather than resolved.

Peace talks finally took place in 2014. The Palestinian leadership, divided between Gaza and the West Bank, failed to form a unified negotiating position, while key leaders of Israel, including Mr. Bennett, flatly opposes a Palestinian state.

But the surge in violence has led some Israeli commentators to acknowledge the inherent instability of the status quo, even if that perception merely hardens people’s pre-existing views of the Israeli conflict. – Palestine.

Ofer Zalzberg, director of the Middle East Program at the Herbert C. Kelman Institute, a research group based in Jerusalem, said: “In many ways, it was a grueling conversation with a few new arguments. “You don’t see people changing their positions in events,” he added. “They choose their position for where they sit.”

For some witnesses and survivors of the most recent shooting in Bnei Brak, a city in central Israel, attack by a Palestinian in the West Bank that killed five people there on Tuesday allayed the perception that Israel has no partner for peace among Palestinians and that establishing a Palestinian state would only make Israeli lives more dangerous.

Although Mr. Bennett also opposes Palestinian sovereignty, he has been heavily criticized for his partnership with Raam and for issuing tens of thousands more permits to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank to work in Israel.

Posters were strewn across the city urging residents not to use Palestinian workers, and a banner was placed next to the memorial to the victims calling for Mr. Bennett’s resignation. In neighboring cities, one mayor closed city construction sites that often employ Palestinians, and another urged contractors not to hire Palestinians.

Moshe Waldman, an accountant in Bnei Brak who witnessed part of the attack, said: “We need severe punishment for the families of terrorists. “Destroy their home. Let’s take real deterrence actions.”

“The world always tells us, ‘You need to sit down and negotiate,’” he added. “But that is not the reality here. We are being killed because they hate us. “

But if some criticize Mr. Bennett for working too closely with Arab Israelis and giving in too much to the Palestinians, others say he hasn’t done enough.

In addition to work permits, the Israeli government has granted legal status to thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank formerly living in legal limbo; $156 million loan to the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank; allowing families in Gaza to visit relatives in Israeli prisons; as well as meeting and communicating more openly with Palestinian leaders than in the previous government.

But critics say this approach, which Mr. Bennett has described as “minimizing the conflict”, does not improve many fundamental aspects of Palestinian life under occupation.

The Israeli military still conducts daily raids in areas nominally run by the Palestinian Authority. Israel still operates a two-tier justice system in the West Bank – one for Palestinians and one for Israeli settlers. And the Palestinian dream of statehood remains as far away as ever.

“There is absolutely desperation and no political horizon on the Palestinian front,” said Mairav ​​Zonszein, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based research organization.

Zonszein added: “Israelis are used to continuing to maintain the status quo without cost. “But without any political process, the atmosphere is more conducive to violence.”

In the immediate future, Mr. Bennett has the daunting task of strengthening Israel’s security and allaying concerns about his right-wing establishment, while avoiding measures that could escalate the violence further or cause lawmakers to suffer. shunned Arab law on which his alliance depends.

Trying to strike that balance, the Israeli Army has sent reinforcements to the West Bank and the border between Israel and Gaza, and the Israeli Police have turned their attention almost exclusively to counterterrorism.

Bashaer Fahoum-Jayoussi, co-chair of the council of the Abrahamic Initiative, an NGO that promotes equality between Arabs and Jews.

“This is crazy,” she said. “This is calling for the militarization of the people,” and risks “increasing hate speech over the past week and a half against the Arab community in Israel” with caution.

In an attempt to defuse tensions, Mr Bennett praised his Arab coalition partner, party leader Raam Mansour Abbas, describing him as a brave and important member of the government. The government continues to allow tens of thousands of Palestinians to enter Israel from the West Bank and Gaza every day. And there are no changes to the plan to allow West Bank retirees to enter Jerusalem during the holy month of Ramadan, which begins this weekend.

Mr. Bennett’s office declined to comment for this article.

But one of his closest allies, Micah Goodman, the philosopher who popularized the idea of ​​”minimizing conflict,” says it’s too early to judge the success of the government’s approach on the Coast. West or in Israel itself.

“The two main pillars of his idea – “the gradual liberation of Palestinians in the West Bank and the gradual integration of Palestinians into Israel” – will take years, not months, he said.

“The dominant emotional experience of Israelis in the conflict is one of fear, and for Palestinians, it is humiliation,” Mr. Goodman said. Narrowing the conflict is to create “a reality where Israelis are less afraid because of less terror and less humiliating to Palestinians because of less occupation.”

That difficult gradual process, he added, “cannot be assessed in just nine months of working with this government”.

Zalzberg, a Jerusalem-based analyst, said if the current wave of violence breaks out soon, it could even be seen as proof of the effectiveness of the Bennett government’s approach.

The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, issued a rare condemnation of the attack in Bnei Brak, a move that Israeli officials explained was the result of their recent increased interaction with him.

“If the current violence subsides,” said Mr. Zalzberg, “there will be a sense that the PA is a partner and that cooperation with the PA is valuable when it comes to fighting Israel’s enemies.”

That could “create more political space for further steps to empower the Protected Area,” he added, while “obviously there is no official Palestinian state.”

But for Ms. Fahoum-Jayoussi, these patchwork measures did not loosen the occupation, but rather politically mask its manipulation through the growth of existing settlements and violence. force of settlers, which will increase in 2021.

“The occupation is happening,” she said. “It’s actually getting worse and worse.”

Rawan Sheikh Ahmad Contribution reports from Haifa, Israel, and Gabby Sobelman from Bnei Brak, Israel.

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