Protest and violence is spreading all over the West Bank. The prisoners’ hunger strike and the friction between fanatic settlers and the Palestinians is pouring oil on the fire. Undoubtedly, if any prisoner passes away the reaction will be fiercer and things may get out of hand. The excessive use of force by the Israeli security forces will explode the situation furthermore.
We witnessed this situation after the traffic accident in Jabalya, Gaza Strip early in December, 1988. The policy of breaking hands and legs contributed only to spark more violent reactions from the Palestinians and led to the break out of the first Intifada. Those of us who lived that period can understand easily that the way to calm down the situation will not go through more pressure and excessive force but by self-restraint and investing real effort to come forth to address the fears and demands of the other side.
Two main issues should be addressed as soon as possible. Every minute or hour counts. We are in race with the time.
Release Palestinian prisoners
The first issue is the prisoners’ issue. Israel should respect its obligations in the prisoners exchange deal known as the Shalit deal. The recent unilateral amendment of the conditions regarding re-arresting the released prisoners should be frozen and shelved. For example the most famous hunger striking prisoner Samer Issawi was re-arrested because he visited al-Ram, a neighborhood of Jerusalem. Is this an enough reason to violate his release agreement? All the prisoners who were rearrested after they were released in this deal should be released immediately as a signal of respecting commitments.
Furthermore and as a gesture of good faith towards the moderate leadership of Ramallah and on the eve of Obama visit, all prisoners who were arrested before the Oslo agreement should be released too. There is no logic that those who sent these prisoners to act against Israel are now free with VIP cards, while those prisoners are in jail for tens of years. Most of them are old with chronic illnesses.
It is a fact that security people take the maximal measures to guarantee their success in their jobs, but political leaders are those who should have vision and take courageous decisions that can open the way to peace and reconciliation.
Deal with settlers’ attacks against Palestinians
Settlers’ attacks against villagers and Arabs in general should be dealt with more seriously by the Israeli authorities. There should be one law for all. In most of the cases, the violations of blood and property of the Palestinians are permitted. If this situation continues, the coming fierce confrontation is inevitable. Israel should restrain its extreme fanatic settlers. It carries the full responsibility for the results of their attacks.
Releasing prisoners, restraining the settlers, parallel with other economical measures can contribute much to calm down the situation and change the climate around. Between these economic measures are the transfers of all the taxes that Israel collected on behalf of the PA, increasing the numbers of working permits for Palestinians to work in Israel, and trying to allow free access to the Holy places in Jerusalem for all ages.
End the occupation and a Palestinian state – the keys to peace and stability
Calming down the situation on the ground is not a goal by itself, and will not make any difference in the long run, unless it will be a step forward towards creating a positive climate to revive the negotiating process and achieving a political solution to the conflict. Ending the Israeli occupation and accepting the Palestinian state recognized by the international community should be the end aim. Unfortunately there are no signals that any new government in Israel with the current composition of the Knesset is able to do that. The breakout of a new wave of violence and bloodshed remains a matter of time. The U.S. and the international community should act to put Israel on the track to peace and stability in the region which is a common interest for all.
It’s the time to be wise not TSODEK!
This article was originally published in Yediot Ahronot in Hebrew on February 25, 2013.