Rifts within Israel over violence by Palestinians

PM, Cabinet, military and intelligence chiefs at odds over the cause and solution

Israeli policemen detain a Palestinian suspect for allegedly stabbing a woman in Jerusalem on Nov 29.
Israeli policemen detain a Palestinian suspect for allegedly stabbing a woman in Jerusalem on Nov 29.PHOTO: REUTERS

JERUSALEM • Two months into a wave of stabbings, shootings and vehicle attacks by Palestinians targeting Israelis, gaps are emerging between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the military and intelligence chiefs over what is driving the violence.

The rifts raise questions about whether the right tactics are being used to quell the unrest, the most sustained that Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank have experienced since the last Palestinian uprising, or intifada, ended in 2005.

While there is agreement between Mr Netanyahu, the military and the Shin Bet security agency about broad aspects of the violence - that it is being carried out by "lone wolves" active on social media and that tensions over the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem have contributed - the deeper causes are disputed.

Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of directly inciting the unrest. He also describes it as a manifestation of Palestinians' hatred of Jews and unwillingness to accept Israel's right to exist.

"What is driving this terrorism is opposition to Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, within any borders," he said on Sunday.

In contrast, the military and Shin Bet have tended to point to a variety of economic and socio-political factors that they see fuelling Palestinian anger and frustration.

"The motivation for action is based on feelings of national, economic and personal discrimination," Shin Bet wrote in an analysis last month. "For some of the assailants, an attack provides an escape from a desperate reality they believe cannot be changed."

At a Cabinet meeting in November, the head of the army's intelligence division gave a similar description, leading to a row with at least one minister.

Since Oct 1, when the violence began, 19 Israelis and an American have been killed. Over the same period, Israeli forces have shot dead 97 Palestinians.

As well as differences in identifying the causes, there are gaps in the approach being advocated to quell the situation.

The military, which is minutely involved in maintaining stability, is pushing for pinpoint operations that target specific perpetrators. Senior ministers want a heavier toll to be exacted on the Palestinians.

Mr Netanyahu has shown no inclination so far to launch a huge military operation, despite ramping up deployments in the West Bank. He has also rejected suggestions of offering concessions to the Palestinians to defuse tension, saying the violence has to end first.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2015, with the headline 'Rifts within Israel over violence by Palestinians'. Print Edition | Subscribe