By Alon Ben-Meir, Huffington Post
June 26, 2014
The abduction of three Israeli teenage boys is a criminal act and hopefully the perpetrators will be caught soon, face the full weight of the law and end the heart-wrenching ordeal of the boys’ parents and relatives. Yet regardless of who is responsible, Prime Minister Netanyahu made matters much worse for both Israelis and Palestinians. His sweepingly harsh response has already led to more deaths and may potentially lead to more abductions, if not an outright Palestinian uprising.
It is legitimate for Israeli security forces to go into the West Bank and investigate in an effort to find the missing boys and capture the perpetrators, especially when President Abbas demonstrated in words and deeds his unreserved cooperation. Abbas condemned the kidnapping, not just for Israeli and US ears but also the Arab world, as he “delivered [his comments] at a high-profile gathering of Muslim and Arab officials in Saudi Arabia.”
Instead of working diligently with Palestinian internal security to demonstrate how the two sides can fully cooperate on matters of security now and in the future, Netanyahu sent his security forces on a rampage throughout the West Bank. More than 1,150 locations were searched including charities, media outlets and university campuses.
Around 400 Palestinians were arrested and more than half are Hamas operatives and politicians. Netanyahu, who vehemently rejected the Palestinian unity government, seized upon the agonizing kidnapping to play politics with the lives of three innocent youngsters.
Instead of challenging Hamas to help in the search for the missing teenagers to demonstrate their commitment to the unity government, he immediately accused Hamas as the “usual suspects” behind such a hideous crime without producing any evidence.
The subsequent death of four Palestinians, the youngest being only 15 years old who was killed while throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, provoked massive demonstrations during his funeral. This sad episode has outraged the Palestinians and only deepened their resentment and hatred of the Israelis, further damaging the already deeply frayed bilateral relations between the two sides.
Regardless of how wrong the Palestinians are and how the extremists among them contribute to this sad state of affairs, the vast majority who seek peace still live a life of servitude, intolerable by any civilized standard. Every Israeli of conscience should put himself in the shoes of an ordinary Palestinian, who wakes up in the morning feeling besieged and goes to sleep trampled upon in his own home.
How absurd and cynical it is to maintain an occupation for 47 years and expect the Palestinians to simply obey and feel sanguine about it.
How outrageous it is to build new and expand existing settlements on Palestinian land, robbing them of their dream to build a state of their own, and then blame them for harboring malice toward Israelis.
Why should any Palestinian feel compassion toward the abducted teenagers when Israeli security forces conduct night raids in private homes, often unnecessary and unjustified, terrifying the young who cower in fear? They witness with horror their father or older brother being humiliated and violently dragged away.
How could Netanyahu bolster restrictive and discriminatory laws against the Palestinians, build physical barriers and endless checkpoints, and make their lives ever more miserable but then expect them to take these abuses with equanimity?
Netanyahu, who claims to be the champion behind Israel’s security, is driven by blind ideology and consistently acts in a manner that in fact is dangerously eroding instead of enhancing Israel’s legitimate security concerns.
While Netanyahu professes to seek a two-state solution, he spares no effort to undermine the peace process in every which way possible. With typical chutzpah, he insists that there is no partner with whom to negotiate.
He accuses the Palestinians of being divided and unable to uphold any agreement, but then he suspended the peace negotiations because the Palestinians created a unity government with Hamas that represents all Palestinians in an effort to end their division.
In spite of the fact that the unity government committed itself to the three Quartet principles (recognizing Israel, honoring prior agreements, and forsaking violence), Netanyahu argues that he will not negotiate with any Palestinian government that includes Hamas instead of giving it a chance to demonstrate its commitment to peaceful negotiations.
Three years ago Netanyahu released 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one Israeli soldier. What kind of message has he sent to the Palestinians and to the whole world for that matter? One that says the release of one Israeli captive is worth more than the souls of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
How should the fathers and mothers of more than 5,000 incarcerated Palestinians, among them scores of teenagers the same age as the kidnapped Israelis, feel about their kids who are languishing in jail, many of whom without being put on trial and with no end in sight?
Why should there be any surprise if within a few weeks or months the abductors of the Israeli youths demand the exchange of their three captives in return for the release of 3,000 Palestinian prisoners? Netanyahu himself and no other is responsible for the development of this unfortunate state of affairs.
Many Israelis, including members of Netanyahu’s coalition, are outraged by this brazen response to the abduction of the Israeli teenagers. Friends of Israel the world over are puzzled by his extraordinarily brutal exploit with utter disregard for human rights.
Those who cheer Netanyahu’s crackdown are severely undermining Israel’s future security and its place among the nations. They must stop and think about how the collective pain and punishment being inflicted on the Palestinians will play out and why these conditions could lead to a nightmarish explosion.
Netanyahu is simply incapable of grasping the implications of his own actions because neither he nor any of his cohorts know where Israel should be ten or fifteen years down the line.
The question is, how can any leader lead his country without a strategy that will take his people to the intended destination? Netanyahu’s strategy, if he has one, is to torpedo the peace process and hope for some miracle that somehow the Palestinians will just disappear.
If Netanyahu genuinely cares about the well-being of the three teenagers, he must also demonstrate sensitivity and empathy toward Palestinian youth to cultivate trust and constructive neighborly relations. Instead, he is nurturing hatred and hostility between the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians, and is condemning them to a cruel and violent future.
It is time for all Israelis to wake up and ask the simple question — where are we heading — and demand a clear and unequivocal answer from Netanyahu himself. It is only a question of time when the Palestinians will rise again, and though they would be crushed, they have little left to lose and Israel’s “victory” will be its greatest defeat.
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir was born an Iraqi Jew and has long been involved in peace negotiations between Israel and the Arab states. He is a senior fellow at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs where he has taught courses on the Middle East and international negotiations for 18 years, and he is the Middle East Project Director at the World Policy Institute.