Cycle of violence resumes quickly following brutal West Bank killings of Israeli students


As is traditional in Israel, the sad funerals of Gil-Ad Shaer and US-Israeli national Naftali Fraenkel (both 16) and Eyal Yifrah (19) , took place quickly yesterday in the central town of Modiin. The first part of Israel’s response, international appeals for restraint notwithstanding, was equally speedy: air attacks on 34 sites in Gaza, most owned by Hamas which has denied, implausibly, responsibility for the abduction and killings. Further measures will come, although the government appears to be divided over quite how far to go.

Little wonder Hamas would not wish to be associated with the disappearances, although two of its alleged members are being sought for what was probably an opportunist rather than planned killing. Such is the trauma that has clearly been manifest in Israel since June 12th when the hitching trio disappeared, there will be little kudos even in the most hardened ranks of the Palestinian community for the perpetrators. And much fear of the consequences.

Whether planned, officially sanctioned, or not, the brutal killings are a politically disastrous vindication of the Israeli government’s narrative on Hamas as irredentist, anti-Jewish terrorists with whom a deal can never be done. This, at a time when others have been seeking gradually to find ways of bringing the group into the political process.

The political fallout from the killings has already exceeded the pain of the military response. A week ago, reacting to the disappearances, Prime Minister Benymin Netanyahu further reduced any small prospects of a resumption of peace talks that collapsed in April by insisting in a major policy speech that in any future agreement with the Palestinians, Israel would insist on maintaining security control of the West Bank “for a very long time”.

There was a real and rising threat to Israel, he claimed , in the likelihood that the departure of its forces from the West Bank would “probably lead to collapse of the Palestinian Authority there and the takeover of radical Islamic forces, like in Gaza.” That strategic threat was compounded by the rise of Isis in Syria and Iraq, posing a direct threat to neighbouring Jordan.

His hawkish approach has been reflected in his insistence, now cemented by the deaths, that no talks with the Palestinians could take place while Mahmoud Abbas continued to head an administration with a Hamas component. The deaths of the three youths leaves Abbas with the impossible choice of decisively breaking with Hamas, and losing credibility in a Palestinian community that has long yearned for unity of its leadership, or sticking with Hamas, and forgoing what looks like indefinitely any prospect of talks.

Netanyahu’s keen awareness of that reality and eagerness to further twist the screw, suggests that, in truth, he has little interest in dialogue. Yesterday’s funerals were burying hope.