In Israel, attacks fuel calls to separate from Palestinians

Prime Minister Netanyahu, under fire for policies that have failed to halt the violence, sends troops to bolster police cordoning off sections of East Jerusalem.

Sebastian Scheiner/AP
Israeli border police officers help place concrete blocks on the road at the entrance to the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabal Mukaber, Oct. 14. The Israeli military began deploying hundreds of troops in cities across the country on Wednesday to assist police forces in countering a wave of deadly Palestinian shooting and stabbing attacks that have created panic across the country.

“Raanana strong.”

A day after Palestinian assailants carried out twin stabbings on the main street of this Tel Aviv suburb, a set of homemade signs meant to boost spirits were posted in the bus stop where the attacks occurred.

But jittery residents said they were still frustrated with the inability of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to handle a rising wave of violence. Some seven Israelis and 30 Palestinians have been killed and more than 1,000 wounded, and fears of a new Palestinian uprising are rising. 

The Palestinian attacks have tarnished Mr. Netanyahu’s reputation as a security hawk and left his policy of “conflict management” appearing overly passive. They have also fueled calls to separate Israelis and Palestinians.

“They are impotent,’’ gripes Itzik Taussi, the owner of an electric bike shop just a few hundred feet from the site of Tuesday’s attacks. “We have a weak leadership. We are in a bad situation.”

Like other Raanana residents who experienced the attacks, Mr. Taussi believes the solution to the upsurge in violence is to forge increased separation between Israelis and Palestinians. In his case, that means giving the Palestinians a state.

“What is there to manage?” he says. “Give them control of their own area, and we control our area. You can’t control three to four million people.’’

Overnight Tuesday, in the government's latest effort to quell violence and appease demands for a harsher response, Netanyahu and his cabinet approved measures meant to crack down on the violence, which has been centered mostly in Jerusalem and carried out by Palestinian residents of the eastern half of the city.

New barriers in Jerusalem

By Wednesday morning, the army said it had deployed several companies of soldiers to reinforce Israel's strained police force there. Police-manned barriers went up at the exit of two Palestinian neighborhoods to check for potential assailants, an attempt to satisfy calls by some Israelis to enforce a closure on Arab East Jerusalem.

The rising Israeli-Palestinian violence, fueled by Palestinians' concerns that Israel will change the “status quo” governing access to Jerusalem’s holy sites, has sparked concerns that the attacks are more spontaneous than directed, and that leaders on both sides are less able to contain it. It follows an outburst of deadly violence a year ago attributed to similar concerns over Jerusalem and to lingering tensions from a summer war in the Gaza Strip.

"They're being too soft. Once they are harsher, the terrorists will think twice,'' Roya Periam, a Netanyahu supporter, says of Israeli officials.

"It was very stressful,” says Ms. Periam, who works in a snack bar on Raanana's main street and heard the attack. “We always saw it on TV, but never thought it would reach Raanana. Everyone I see now looks suspicious, like the man in the cafe over there. It scares me.''

That sense of anxiety has undercut Netanyahu's job-approval rating. When 600 Israelis were asked last week to rate the government's job on security in Jerusalem on a scale of 0 to 5, it got an average score of 2.26, according to a survey conducted jointly by Tel Aviv University and the Israel Democracy Institute.

Recurring violence seen as inevitable

"A harsh response gives Israelis confidence that we have control over a situation that is uncontrollable and unpredictable,'' says Mitchell Barak, an Israeli public opinion expert who lives in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv, where a pair of Palestinians carried out a shooting and stabbing on Tuesday.

After years of failed negotiations, Mr. Barak adds, Israelis don’t believe peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will yield a peace deal. But the same public opinion poll found that two-thirds of Israelis believed that without progress toward peace, a Palestinian uprising would erupt within three years at the most.

Recurring rounds of violence are an inevitable consequence of a conflict that cannot be solved through negotiations or through military action in the near future, says Kobi Michael, a former official at Israel's Strategic Affairs Ministry and a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

“As long as this conflict cannot be solved, violence will be part of our life. We need to make efforts to decrease violence, and to ensure the intervals between the violence will be much longer. Then the resilience of society and the economy will be much stronger,'' he says.

“Unfortunately the interval between the last wave and this wave is only one year, but I don’t have any illusions that the next wave won't come.”

'We need to make a cut'

But for average Israelis looking over their shoulder, that's a bitter reality to accept.

At a convenience store just steps away from the bus stop with the sign declaring "Raanana residents stay strong," Nir Shternlieb recounts how he beat the Palestinian attacker unconscious to stop a stabbing attack.

Two days before, he says, the same man frequented his shop in an apparent effort to prepare for the strike, and didn't arouse any suspicions. Though he says he's celebrated as a hero, Mr. Shternlieb complains that business is down and his wife won’t send his children to kindergarten.

"There's no calm. It's not real,'' he says. "We need to make a cut to the conflict. They need a state – but over there. Let them do whatever they want there.”

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