PARIS — First came the stones, then the suicide bombers. Now it's the knives. How can these latest attacks ever be predicted and prevented, carried out by lone wolves driven by their own rage? We appear on the verge of a third Intifada just as Israel prepares to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's death on November 4. It's as if there were a direct connection between the killing of the man who best embodied a real hope for peace and the new explosion of violence that's haunting the region.
Why would the cycle of fragile truces and brutal explosions change? The situation is more than a stalemate: it's getting worse with time, spurred on by both political and religious radicalization.
There's a real gap between the tragic images coming from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the West Bank and the growing indifference with which the international community watches the region's, if not the world's, oldest conflict. During a meeting last week in Paris dedicated to "the new challenges and new balances in the Middle East," none of the speakers deemed it necessary to make even the slightest mention of the current eruption of violence.
Between the fight against ISIS and its globalization on the one hand, and the Iran nuclear deal and its political, diplomatic and economic consequences on the other, it is indeed difficult to make time and show interest in an issue that's been so discouraging and intractable. It has worn out even the most determined and optimistic minds.
The Palestinians will wait for better times to come, and the Israelis will pay the price tomorrow for the mistakes their leaders are committing today.
Is there even a credible alternative to the fragile and sometimes violent status quo? How can we expect the Israelis to return the West Bank to the Palestinians even as ISIS is gaining ground near their border with Syria? Wouldn't that be suicidal on their part? And who among the Palestinians would be willing to begin serious negotiations with the current Israeli government and its right-wing drift. There are too many divisions and weaknesses on one side, too many illusions of strength on the other.
A mere dream
To cut to the chase, the parties can't reach an agreement by themselves, and the international community is too weak, too divided, too indifferent and too far away to impose such a deal.
If there's a consensus today, it's a negative one. The solution — these days, more like a dream — of two states peacefully coexisting alongside one another has ceased to exist. At least in theory, it was a good idea to exchange land for peace. But in an almost perverse way, the two parties have seemed to resign themselves to the status quo. For the Israelis, it's "comfortable" save for these periods when violence erupts. It's much less comfortable for the Palestinians, but won't their demography avenge them in the long run?
Since the Israelis aren't ready to grant them a viable state alongside their own, the Palestinians will progressively, and within the current Israeli borders, become the majority, with the implied political, social and religious consequences. The Jews will simply become a minority in the Jewish state.
For decades, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a struggle for territory. It is possible to compromise on borders between two different peoples. But if the clash turns into a religious conflict between two sides who don't even need each other to radicalize, any form of compromise becomes much more difficult, if not impossible, to reach.
The 1993 Oslo Accord handshake between Rabin and Yassir Arafat. Photo: White House
Since the two-state solution is de facto outdated, since the idea of one binational state isn't acceptable, some now like to think of a third option, that of a confederation between three peoples: the Israelis, the Palestinians and the Jordanians. After all, isn't Jordan Israel's closest partner in the region?
Based today on mistrust, such a confederation could tomorrow, thanks to its undeniable economic advantages, become a more positive entity. Let's stop dreaming. The Middle East isn't and won't become like post-World War II Europe. We watch powerlessly as hatred and intolerance rise relentlessly. In Israel, even small extremist minorities no longer hesitate to use violence to defend, or indeed impose, their vision of the world.
But how can we tell the Israelis that the first danger that threatens their country in the long run is not Iran, not ISIS and not even Palestinian knives, but a policy of occupation that undermines the very political and ethical foundations of their state? An occupation that comes with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's shift to the right, which makes him a hostage of forces even more extreme than him.
If Yitzhak Rabin had lived, we can't say for sure that his dream of peace between Israelis and Palestinians would have become a reality. But what we can say is that the world has desperately missed his brave, modest and realistic character. That is more true today than ever.