It’s easy to put the blame on only one party or another party to a conflict, either on the stronger or the weaker party, depending upon one’s own political convictions. But political responsibility requires more careful parsing. Forming into a tightly entangled ball, here are at least 4 threads that are constituting the current crisis in Israel, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank. They include non-state, quasi-state, and state actors. The non-state actors are responsible for the immediate violence, the condition for which are determined by the quasi state and state actors, the majority of whose onus is determined by the only functional state authority in the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, namely the government of Israel.
–The first thread: Jewish religious nationalists driving the hardcore of the settlement movement, the Price Tag phenomenon (responsible for attacking Palestinian farmers and arson attacks on mosques and churches, and almost certainly responsible for the murder of an entire family this summer in a firebomb attack on their home). Most worrisome are the Temple Mount activists who are pressing to change the status quo on the Temple Mount and allow Jewish prayer. Much of this gets framed around rebuilding the Third Temple at the site. These are dangerous non-government actors who enjoy some to considerable support and leeway in the Netanyahu coalition government, including a minister from the religious (orthodox) nationalist Jewish Home party as well as Likud members of Knesset. They are the match thrown into the gas that is the Temple Mount. Like any holy place, especially contested ones, the Temple Mount lends itself to all kinds of volatility when the status quo favoring one group (in this case Muslims) gets challenged by another group (in this case orthodox Jewish nationalist activists with government support or tolerance).
–The second thread: Israeli and other Palestinian Muslim religious activists and leaders calling the Palestinian people out to defend the Noble Sanctuary and the Al-Aqsa from “the Jews.” This is complicated. On one hand, responsible members of the Netanyahu government have been clear that Israel has no intention to change the status quo on the Temple Mount to allow Jewish prayer. On the other hand, the government has not been sufficiently clear on this point while coddling and including more radical elements from the religious (orthodox) right pressing to change the status quo. No doubt, this is an overly fine distinction that gets lost on the Palestinian young people, who have been disproportionately responsible for much of the violence and whose primary source of inspiration is drawn from social media content meant to incite murder, including attacks directed at children, parents in front of the children, old people, and individuals and families in their cars. In the first couple of weeks, the victims were overwhelming religious (orthodox) Jews, including (non-Zionist) ultra-orthodox Jews, who are easy to identify as “settlers.”
–A third thread is viewed in larger context. Is there in Palestinian society an overriding incapacity to sign off on the partition of the country? For its part, the Palestinian Authority is recognized by Israeli security people as maintaining with them a law and order security compact in areas under Palestinian semi-sovereign control. Indeed, the violence that has so unhinged most Israelis is the violence in territories controlled by Israel, i.e. sovereign territory under Israeli civilian rule and also neighborhoods in East Jerusalem now under and neglected by Israeli civilian control. But to date, the Palestinian Authority has failed to sign final agreements with Israel or create the conditions leading to a final status agreement. It has been argued by Prime Minister Netanyahu that this failure is based on an incapacity to recognize genuine Jewish connections and rights to Historic Palestine/Land of Israel. There might be something to this. In most Palestinian circles, Israel as such is always made mention of as a colonialist regime and alien presence. It might also be the case that a clear and public recognition of these connections and rights on the part of a Palestinian leader would go a long way in undercutting much of the racism coursing through Israeli society and the instinctive support for the Israeli Jewish rightwing that feeds off despair and fear. On both sides to the conflict, the older generation fails young people over and over. More to the immediate point, it is the collapse of this authority as a legitimate authority, especially in East Jerusalem, that creates the vacuum for much of the dead-end violence emanating from Palestinian society.
–The fourth thread is also viewed in larger context. It is the refusal on the part of the last three Israeli governments led by Benjamin Netanyahu, plus the inability of governments led by Barak, Olmert, and Sharon to conclude a negotiated settlement with the Palestinian Authority led by the moderate leadership of Mahmoud Abbas. Without the settlements as a factor and without their presence on the ground and in the government, where they enjoy disproportionate influence, it would be much easier to conclude a deal based on a viable 2 state solution. The actions of Israeli soldiers and police contribute to the conflict, but they are caught in the middle. The responsibility for refusing to create the conditions for and to pursue a genuine solution based on mutual recognition and respect coupled with inciting rhetoric falls on the part of the Prime Minister and others in his government. The Occupation feeds directly into the inequality and racism driving this stage of the conflict. The public expression of values based on equality and justice coordinating a freeze on settlements and a program to de-escalate the occupation would undercut much of the instinctive hostility for Israel and the Zionist project blending into anti-Semitism, which like Jewish anti-Arab racism, feeds off despair and fear. It is for the government of Israel to come to a conclusion re: either a 2 state solution or 1 state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As long as this decision remains unmade, the situation in Israel and Palestine will become more volatile, not less. There’s no way to “manage the conflict” absent a strategic decision.