The separate murders last weekend of two Israeli soldiers has led to an outpouring of grief. On Sunday, Sgt. Gal Gabriel Kobi was killed by a Palestinian sniper while on patrol in Hebron. That followed the killing Friday of Sgt. Tomer Hazan, who was lured unarmed to a West Bank village by a Palestinian co-worker. These two murders were graphic reminders that Israel is at war, and concerns regarding her security and that of her citizenry is of paramount importance.
But the Israeli government’s response did not seem to emphasize security. Indeed, one could argue that the response led to an unnecessary undermining of the already tenuous Israel-Palestinian peace talks.
Following the murders, the Jewish Home party and some members of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party called for an end to the peace process. Instead, Netanyahu issued an order allowing Israelis to move into a contested building in a Palestinian section of Hebron.
That announcement did not serve to strengthen the peace talks; Israeli activity over the green line is clearly one of the Palestinians’ chief complaints. And the timing of the announcement was particularly curious, since it came at a time when Israel is trying to improve her international standing, as she tries to maintain world focus on the Iranian nuclear threat during the U.N. General Assembly meetings this week.
The response of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was equally confusing. While Abbas pledged that he would not raise the issue of Palestinian statehood at the General Assembly, he was largely silent about the killings. It was only after he was prompted by U.S. and European Union condemnations that Abbas expressed concern — in English — about the killings during a meeting on Monday with prominent Jews in New York. But even then Abbas added that Israel must condemn the recent deaths of four young Palestinians by the IDF — a garbled reference perhaps to the one suspected Palestinian terrorist shot and killed by Israel on Sept. 17 during a raid on a refugee camp near Jerusalem.
And so the scorekeeping goes on. But keeping score doesn’t get either side very far. In fact, all it really does is enflame the passions of those on both sides who are opposed to the peace effort.
We continue to believe that Israel needs to reach a two-state deal with the Palestinians, and that any such agreement must include clear, uncompromising guarantees of Israel’s security. Efforts and responses to incitement that promote Israel’s security make sense in that context. But a provocative response that doesn’t meet the security enhancement test runs the risk of being nothing more than another provocation.