Here we go again: apparently the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the level of attempted terror attacks still go hand in hand. When a bomb was miraculously found on a bus in the city of Bat Yam Sunday – soon enough to allow for the safe evacuation of travelers – Israel's Chief of Police explained that the event "demonstrates that the terror threat is in the background, especially during these days in which an attempt is being made to advance the diplomatic negotiations". On Monday, Maariv Daily reported that Israel's Security Agency (Shin Bet) statistics show that terror attacks are on the rise. Later that day, a policeman was stabbed with a knife in his back near Jerusalem.
And today, an Israeli was killed near Gaza.
In recent months, prompted by the intensive involvement of US Secretary of State John Kerry, Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been engaged in yet another attempt to reach an agreement that will put an end to the never-ending Israeli-Arab conflict. A deadline was set for the talks, nine months, more than four of which have now passed. And the American mediators are preparing to present a "framework" proposal to the two parties. Naturally, the level of skepticism regarding Kerry's chances for success is high both in Israel and in Palestine. More than eighty percent of the Israeli public "sees no chance" that negotiations will "eventually lead to a real agreement". More than sixty percent of Palestinians are still pessimistic or very pessimistic about the chance of "reaching a peaceful settlement" of the conflict.
Still, opponents of peace don't really like to take chances. When they see talks, they grab their guns (or knives, or rockets). Israel has been down this road in the past: there was a dramatic wave of Palestinian attacks in the mid Nineties, following the signing of the Oslo accords, and another one following the collapse of the 2000 Camp David summit. After consequent attempts to keep the torch of peace burning were made, a terrible wave of suicide bombings put negotiations on halt for many years.
We've been down this road, and we know how this road ends.
Of course, when attacks begin our politicians never fail to provide the expected soundtrack. "We are continuing the diplomatic process as if there is no terror, and the Palestinians are continuing the terror as if there is no diplomatic process", complained Habayit Hayehudi Party leader Naftali Bennett, an opponent of the talks. His was a typical response from the right. Indeed - responded Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni, the leading Israeli negotiator and a proponent of the talks, with a typical response from the left: "We will not allow criminal terrorists to determine Israel’s future".
Yes, we've been down this road – and are familiar both with the reality and with the rhetoric.
When a Palestinian suicide bomber killed four Israelis back in 1995, then opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu responded much like Bennet today, explaining that "it is impossible to go on negotiating with the Palestine Liberation Organisation as if nothing had happened". The Prime Minister at the time, the late Yitzhak Rabin, responded much like today's Livni: "The policy of the government of Israel is to continue the peace process… this is a painful day, but it will not deter us from both fighting extreme Islamic terrorism and continuing the negotiations".
Since we've already been down this road we also know how it ends. In 1995, Rabin was assassinated, so we don't know how he would have acted at the time had terror attacks continued. But we do know that six months after his murder his successor, Shimon Peres, lost the elections to Netanyahu – and Palestinian terrorism surely had something to do with this. And we also know that Rabin's daughter, Dalia Rabin, believes that "on the eve of the murder" her father "was considering stopping the Oslo process because of the terror that was running rampant in the streets".
We also know that Palestinian attacks put an end to negotiations in the early 2000th. From the end of the Taba talks in 2001, and effectively until the end of 2006- when rounds of negotiations began between then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas- there were very few peace-process news stories to talk about. Israeli Prime Ministers can say that attacks will not deter them from advancing negotiations – but the public tends to disagree. At times the PMs keep negotiations going and lose the next election- this happened to Peres when he lost to Netanyahu in the 1996 elections and to Ehud Barak who was unceremoniously ousted by the voters in 2000. At times they are forced to take action against Palestinian aggression even when this means putting negotiations at risk- like Olmert did following a spike in rocket attacks from Gaza. Attacks – and this is clear and proven – have impact on the voters. And in a democracy, the voters are those who determine what the leader will do.
So no, Israel is not yet at a point in which its leaders have to halt the peace process. But the pressure will be mounting with every coming attack. Livni can say for now that the extremists, the attackers, the opponents of peace, will not determine the future of Israel. She is wrong- wrong if she believes that, this time around, Israelis will accept the formula of talking-as-if-there-is-no-terror-and-fighting-terror-as-if-there-are-no-talks. They never have, and they will not this time. One successful bus bomb, a couple of rockets, three-four more knifing events, and the extremists will win. If the Americans, the Palestinians, and the Israelis don't want them to win, ignoring them and just continuing the talks is not the answer. Stopping them, first and foremost, is the only answer that Israelis are likely to accept.
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