Elhanan Miller, Arab Affairs reporter for the Times of Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been resisting calls from his challengers on both sides of the political spectrum to implement harsher measures in tackling a wave of Palestinian violence across Israel and the West Bank.
On Tuesday night, Netanyahu authorized police to impose curfews and closures at their own discretion in Palestinian “centers of friction and incitement” in Jerusalem. He also allowed for a series of targeted measures against terrorists and their families, permitting the police to revoke their permanent Jerusalem resident status, confiscate property, and demolish homes. His security cabinet also augmented Jerusalem’s police force with hundreds of Border Patrol reservists and approved the recruitment of 300 security guards to patrol Jerusalem’s public transportation system, where a number of attacks have taken place.
These relatively modest moves were a far cry from the remedies proposed by opposition leader Isaac Herzog on Tuesday, October 13. These included a full closure of Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem (Herzog had previously suggested sealing off the West Bank), temporarily banning all visits to the Temple Mount, and waging an “aggressive war” against Islamic websites and online incitement. On the right, Netanyahu has similarly ignored bellicose calls from legislators in his own Likud party, like Deputy Interior Minister Yaron Mazuz, who advocated “a widespread military operation.”
Netanyahu’s measured response to the violence is well advised—doubtless informed by the opinions of his security brass, who realize that disrupting the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians would do more harm than good. Shutting Temple Mount, as Herzog proposed, would only inflame Palestinian spirits and vindicate those who claim that Israel is intent on changing the 48-year-old status quo in al-Aqsa.
However, the prime minister has failed to adequately tackle the root causes of Palestinian violence. By focusing on “incitement” by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel’s Islamic Movement, and militant Arab Knesset member Hanin Zoabi, Netanyahu has avoided identifying (or acknowledging) the corrosive effect of social media on disillusioned Palestinian youth. As proven by their posts on Facebook, those who carried out the attacks were deeply individualistic and anti-authoritarian. If anything, their attacks were committed in defiance of Mahmoud Abbas’s repeated calls for non-violent resistance to Israel rather than with reverence to them.
While correct in pointing to a link between current Palestinian activism and the wave of revolutions sweeping the Arab Middle East, Netanyahu’s messaging has overstated the point by likening the stabbings to Islamic State beheadings. Not only do such comparisons evoke unwarranted hysteria among the Israeli public, but they fail to identify the unique circumstances that lie beneath the Palestinian violence. It is unpopular in Israel to address the ongoing neglect of East Jerusalem in providing education, infrastructure, and social services. The neighborhoods from which most of the attackers hailed have been under full Israeli sovereignty since 1967.
Ultimately, it will be up to Netanyahu’s government to drastically improve the situation in East Jerusalem if any long-lasting calm is to be achieved.