What now for Israel and the Palestinians?

Nothing closes ranks in Israel like the deliberate killing of civilians

Relatives of Palestinian youth Yousef Abu Zagha watch the teenager’s funeral at the Jenin refugee camp, West Bank yesterday. Photograph: Alaa Badarneh/EPA

Relatives of Palestinian youth Yousef Abu Zagha watch the teenager’s funeral at the Jenin refugee camp, West Bank yesterday. Photograph: Alaa Badarneh/EPA

 

Outrage and grief are not wise counsels, so it is perhaps encouraging that Binyamin Netanyahu’s cabinet was divided over how to respond to the murder of three Israeli teenagers found in the West Bank on Monday – and blamed on the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.

Even so, 34 “terror targets” were hit overnight in the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas, presumably to punish and deter. It was a scenario that was grimly familiar from the cycles of violence that have punctuated the conflict for decades.

Yet the circumstances surrounding this incident are particularly volatile and polarising. Nothing closes ranks in Israel like the deliberate killing of innocent civilians – and in this case minors.

Empathy across national lines is in short supply. Palestinians label the victims “settlers” – the three were students at a religious seminary in the West Bank, though only one of them lived in a settlement. Many are angry that killings by Israeli forces pass without parallel international attention or condemnation. Five Palestinians were killed and hundreds detained during the searches for the missing teenagers. Collective punishments were imposed in contravention of international law.

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Hamas’s visceral hostility to Israel is not in doubt. But it has signalled a pragmatic readiness to respect ceasefires and restrain more extreme groups in Gaza. It is unclear whether, as Israel claims, it approved the abduction of the teenagers. It was certainly unwilling to condemn it. Khaled Meshal, its Qatar-based leader, congratulated the abductors “because our prisoners must be freed from the prisons of the occupation”.

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He also condemned Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, for making a deal with terrorists. But the agreement was in fact for a “technocratic” government that reflected the strategic weakness of Hamas following the closure of tunnels into Gaza and the withdrawal of support by the anti-Islamist government in Egypt. It might have paved the way back to a unified Palestinian position after years of divisions, and thus to meaningful negotiations.

Israel is ruled by the most right-wing government in its history, in that Mr Netanyahu does not have a majority that supports the creation of a viable Palestinian state – the only likely solution to the conflict.

Gaza was abandoned in 2005 and its Jewish settlements demolished, but settlement activity has continued apace in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, more than doubling since the Oslo agreement of 1993.

Abbas condemned the abductions and his security forces continued co-operation with Israel. But there are no peace talks. That means the international community has less leverage than ever. The only alternative is “managing the conflict”. The bleak evidence is it is simply not manageable. – (Guardian service)

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