Editorial Opinion

As Israeli-Palestinian tensions escalate, where is America?

By the Ledger Editorial Advisory Board

We don’t know what to call it.

Is it, as the Israeli government insists, a “wave of terror” spurred on by vicious Palestinian incitement against Jews? Is it, as Hamas preachers are intent on asserting, a “third intifada” to defend the sanctity of al-Aqsa mosque?

Whether we call it this or that, whether we identify the genesis as vicious antisemitism or the brutality of occupation, one thing is certain: The continuing violence is pushing the already elusive goal of a two-state solution even further away.

It is easy to imagine that the past three weeks of blood-letting in the West Bank and East Jerusalem could descend into an even more hellish conflagration. The question now is, what can be done to tamp down the inflamed passions that have seized Israeli and Palestinian societies?

There may very well be no answer to that question, and thus the violence will rage on in growing intensity, every casualty contributing to an unstoppable feedback loop of self-righteous rage and victimization.

The latest round of American-backed diplomacy between Jerusalem and Ramallah ended in failure in April of 2014. At the time, Secretary of State John Kerry predicted that in the absence of such diplomacy, the inevitable outcome would be more violence. Within three months, Israel and Hamas were again at war with tunnels, missiles, and ground troops in and around Gaza. Seventy-one Israelis and an estimated 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the ensuing Operation Protective Edge.

Now, 18 months later, the focus shifts from Gaza to the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the weapons of choice are butcher knives and handguns. The casualty toll on both sides is smaller, but the impact is equally destabilizing. The wave of terror is random and heartless. Connecticut was touched directly when former Glastonbury school principal Richard Lakin was stabbed as he rode a bus in Jerusalem last week, and now fights for his life at Hadassah Hospital.

There is persuasive evidence that both the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority desire to avoid a full-scale conflagration. But in the passion of the moment, neither Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will sit down of his own accord to work out a feasible plan to de-escalate the violence.

Netanyahu has surrounded himself with right-wing coalition partners who insist on unfettered Jewish access to the Temple Mount, and carp at his nuanced response to this wave of terror. Abbas inflames Palestinians with false charges of the “execution” of a 13-year-old terrorist who at that very moment was recuperating from his non-fatal wounds at the selfsame Hadassah Hospital.

What is particularly troubling in this round of intercommunal violence is the absence of third-party intervention to turn down the flames. Despite repeated calls from the U.S. State Department for calm, the Obama administration has been inexcusably apathetic.

It’s as if Netanyahu asked the White House to intervene, and the White House snarkily responded: “We’re busy. Why don’t you talk to your good friends in the Republican House leadership? Maybe they can help you out.”

Finally, though, the indefatigable John Kerry is on the move. We can only hope that this week’s meeting in Jerusalem between Netanyahu and Kerry will lead to tangible achievements – possibly a three-way summit between Abbas (now 80 years old, and serving the 11th year of his supposed 4-year term), Netanyahu, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II that restores calm.

But we live in an age when quiet, “normal” Muslim and Jewish teenagers around the world are self-radicalizing (thanks to the internet), whether it be for ISIS and the dignity of the al-Aqsa mosque or for messianic Jewish hegemony over Judea and Samaria. These days, uncontrollable religious impulses are supplementing and, in some cases, overwhelming more resolvable political claims.

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