U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was expected to arrive in Israel this week for his latest diplomatic mission just as Israel was grappling with yet another painful release of Palestinian terrorists from its jails. And the terrorists are going free amid a new wave of violent attacks against Israeli citizens.
The irony isn’t lost on Israelis and it shouldn’t be lost on the world: As Jerusalem takes controversial and heartwrenching steps for peace, those who oppose any deal with the Jewish state step up their attempts to derail it. The prisoner releases only embolden the terrorists, who can assume that even if they are caught, they will eventually go free.
The escalation in violence is a phenomenon with which longtime observers of Mideast negotiations are all too familiar. Boost the violence, the thinking goes, to reinforce the Israeli fears, already justified, that peace will not equal security.
Now, after years of relative quiet, Israel’s Shin Bet security service has reported a steady rise in attacks since Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resumed talks in July. The agency counted 167 attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank in November, compared to 136 in October.
On Dec. 22, a pipe bomb believed to be planted by Palestinians exploded on a bus in central Israel in the most serious attack inside Israel in more than a year. A disaster was averted thanks to the actions of an alert passenger and two rapid-responding police officers who rushed the riders off the vehicle.
The next day, an Israeli policeman was stabbed outside a West Bank settlement. And on Dec. 24, an Israeli civilian was killed by a Palestinian sniper in a cross-border shooting from Gaza, sparking a series of Israeli air strikes that killed a Palestinian girl.
The attacks are raising concerns about the possibility of a new type of Palestinian uprising. The release of another 26 Palestinian prisoners with blood on their hands, the third of four planned releases negotiated as part of the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks, adds potential fuel to the fire.
The reality is that despite Kerry’s determination — this is his 10th visit to the region in the past year — chances for a real deal are remote. Israel’s reported plan to announce new settlement building in conjunction with the prisoner release is, of course, not helpful. But neither can it be the excuse the Palestinians like to give for their unwillingness to engage in difficult negotiations and make painful compromises.
Stepped-up violence is not the path to a Palestinian state. That is a message that Kerry needs to make unequivocally clear to the Palestinian leaders who might think otherwise. Only then can we give peace in 2014 even a slight chance.