A Palestinian terror cell linked to Hamas attacked an Israeli settler family driving through the West Bank last Thursday evening, killing the two parents, Naama and Eitam Henkin.
The attack set off riots, reprisal attacks, security operations, and low-intensity violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Over the weekend, two more Israelis were killed in a stabbing attack and two Palestinian teenagers were shot and killed by the IDF during clashes. Several Israelis, including a 2 year-old, were wounded in attempted stabbings and scores of Palestinians have been wounded by an IDF crackdown and the resulting clashes.
In the wake of this unrest, Israeli and Palestinian leadership are taking steps to calm tensions. Despite antagonism over the speeches both leaders made at last week's UN General Assembly, cooperation on the ground remains effective thus far. Under extreme pressure from the far right, including members of his own government, Prime Minister Netanyahu has deployed an extra four battalions to the IDF deployment in the West Bank and thousands of police in Jerusalem. President Abbas issued orders to Palestinian security forces to quell protests in the West Bank. For their part, Israeli officials have told the Palestinian authority that Israeli security forces intend to take firmer measures to prevent settler violence.
While rumors of a Third Intifada are premature, the violence poses a real threat to control for both Israel's government and the Palestinian Authority. Israel's far-right is literally out for blood and the Prime Minister has already begun a security crackdown that will provide good theatrics but do little to prevent the next wave of attacks. The Palestinian Authority has lacked legitimacy for years among a Palestinian public increasingly frustrated with settlement expansion and a lack of national recognition and basic rights.
"Conflict management" advocates should recognize that the current flare up is proof positive such a strategy is short-sighted. The conflict becomes increasingly difficult to manage over time as more and more Israelis and Palestinians lose faith in their governments' ability to meet their needs. The violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem is not just a crisis of security, it is also a crisis of legitimacy for both Israeli and Palestinian leadership. The alternatives on both sides are radical groups itching for a fight that will leaves hundreds of innocent people dead.
Once the current round of senseless violence ceases, it will be incumbent on both parties to prevent the next outbreak. The stakes of this negotiation are not only the survival of Israel and the Palestinian national cause. They are the survival of Netanyahu and Abbas' respective political power as well.