The first two Palestinian intifadas began on the street. They were not initiated by Palestinian leaders. It was only after the tiger began to thrash about uncontrollably that Palestinian leaders jumped on its back. Is this scenario now repeating itself for a third time?
The increasing number of Palestinian attacks on Israelis is a bad omen. But the prevailing assumption is still that Hamas is not interested in a confrontation right now due to its ongoing dispute with Egypt and that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will not do anything to sour his relationship with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at this stage of the peace negotiations.
But violent incidents have their own rules. When a Palestinian sniper kills a Defense Ministry employee on the border with the Gaza Strip, the Israel Defense Forces must respond firmly. The IDF's reaction on Tuesday was stronger than usual, with strikes on six targets in Gaza. And of course, as is almost always the case in these situations, the Palestinians reported that a 4-year-old girl had been killed.
When the peace talks were renewed earlier this year, Abbas made a series of commitments and he has yet to renege on them. Barring a dramatic turn of events, Israel will release another group of Palestinian prisoners next week. Abbas is definitely not ordering terrorist attacks, but there is a growing sense that he has become indifferent to the use of violence by other Palestinians.
Does Abbas realize that individual acts could drag Palestinian leaders into a situation in which it would be impossible to complete the negotiations with Israel in the allotted nine-month window?
All sides know that the negotiations must be conducted without the specter of violence in the background. Because the Palestinians are responsible for the recent violence, the Israeli government must make it clear that they will not be deterred from delivering a stinging military response, even if this endangers the continuation of the negotiations.
The Americans are in the midst of a campaign to convince both sides of the wisdom of their proposal to provide Israel with reasonable security arrangements in the Jordan Valley, even if the proposal does not exactly meet the demands of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon. Kerry, for his part, is not slowing down or stopping despite the rise in Palestinian attacks. In fact, the Americans are feeling compelled by the growing buds of Palestinian terrorism to pick up the pace, which means both Israel and the Palestinians will soon face more U.S. pressure than before. In the meantime, the Americans are trying to convince IDF generals who use to serve in the Central Command that their plans do meet Israel's security needs. Except one of these generals -- Ya'alon -- is now defense minister.
Kerry's security proposal for the Jordan Valley is intended to reassure Israel. It will be followed by other proposals and perhaps there will even be a framework agreement, which U.S. President Barack Obama spoke about recently. In the Middle East, it is usually wise to be quiet and not make predictions. However, everyone believes that the Americans are about to put a plan on the table. The details of the proposal will begin to be processed after Christmas and New Year's.