So, it has happened again. Riots in Jerusalem. Random rocket fire and precision bombings, both with civilian casualties. The parties are involved in a spiral of revenge with the goal of exhausting the opponent. The pattern is repeated year after year. The outside world demands a cease fire; mediators sign up. This has been the case throughout my adult life. No lasting peace for Israel, no solution for the stateless Palestinians. Cease fire is fine, but for how long?
When Donald Trump gave Benjamin Netanyahu everything he could wish for (except for the final annexation of the West Bank), they both surely wanted it to break the Palestinians’ will to fight. But only a few new confiscations of houses in East Jerusalem were enough to set a potential third Intifada into motion. This time, Israel’s own Arab citizens took to the streets as well.
The prevailing opinion in Israel is that the country does not need to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. Hamas in Gaza is a terrorist organization and Fatah in the West Bank is not a credible partner. If these do not like the situation, we will take the gloves off, is the general attitude. Defense Minister Gantz said that "we must teach Hamas a lesson they will not forget." The problem is that this is exactly what is not happening. After a year or so, the losses are forgotten, and the brutal spiral is repeated.
Today, Israel is militarily, politically, and economically stronger than ever. You can knock down every demonstration and avenge every rocket attack. But all the same you are a loser because you cannot guarantee your citizens the security they should have. As long as 2 million Palestinians are trapped in Gaza, as long as the old population of East Jerusalem is being gradually smoked out, as long as the West Bank's 3 million are not given an honest solution, the Israelis will live with their uncertainty. If Israel's Arab citizens in solidarity now turn against Jewish citizens, insecurity will increase even more.
Several Arab countries accepted the fait accompli and washed their hands in the Palestinian question. Syria is in ruins, Russia and China are benevolent, the EU is divided. President Biden does not want to provoke Netanyahu when the Iran agreement is to be renewed. The US Congress is mostly pro-Israel, although the progressive Democrats are now challenging Biden.
Based on its position of strength, Israel can afford to address its existential fundamental problem: How to secure the future of the Jewish state for the next fifty years and beyond? Will it happen with constantly recurring skirmishes and bloodshed? A people as creative as the Israelis should be able to find more sustainable solutions. Now the politicians blame the other party, set preconditions and delay to have time to annex more. In the long run, Israel cannot conjure away five million people with whom it shares territory.
Even if the outside world is tired of the Palestinian question, Israel cannot neglect it. The country runs the risk of becoming a prisoner in its polarised domestic politics and in the absence of constructive alternatives for the future. In that perspective, the historical victim role, the other party's irrationality, and the right to self-defence are not sustainable motives for not looking after the security needs of future generations.
Pär Stenbäck is a former Finnish politician who has been an MP, Minister of Education, and of Foreign Affairs in the years before 1985. For a period of twenty years, he held leading positions in the Red Cross movement, among these as Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Geneva). He is a founding member of ICG and the European Cultural Parliament ECP. He received the honorary title as Minister in 1999. Today he is chairing the New Foreign Policy Society in Finland (NUPS) since 2017. He contributes regularly to news media.