In last week’s heart-wrenching reminder of Middle East volatility, 11 people were killed in Israel in three separate terror attacks. As a frightened civilian population grieves for the senseless loss of life, they worry about personal safety. At the same time, politicians and security personnel grapple with the proper response to the orchestrated bursts of violence that appear to be motivated by movements of conciliation between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
The issue is made even more complicated by the fact that the Muslim month of Ramadan began over the weekend, and Easter and Passover are approaching. Israel’s government knows that in this month of symbolism it needs to maintain order both to present a stable face to the world in a time of global volatility and in order to maintain sufficient public support to stay in power. All the while, the opposition led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party is watching closely, as they use last week’s killings to support the narrative that Israel’s terror concern is uniquely an Arab threat and one that can only be controlled by more security-minded leadership.
Israel’s delicately balanced coalition government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid — which includes the Ra’am Islamist party — has managed to survive by cooperating where possible, and avoiding controversial decisions. An example of the cooperation came in response to last week’s killings. Ra’am’s leader Mansour Abbas forcefully condemned the attacks, calling them “a heinous and indecent terrorist crime … against innocent civilians,” and pledged that “we all stand together in the face of a murderous wave of terror, all of us with no differences.” In return, the government changed the phrase “wave of murderous Arab terror” to “wave of terror,” as part of an effort to stop pointing an accusatory terror finger at every Arab in Israel and the territories.
Nonetheless, safety and security remain top concerns for Israeli voters. And if the attacks continue, a rattled public could embrace what is touted as Netanyahu and Likud’s more security-conscious approach – which would also bring greater intolerance, and a more accepting attitude toward the aggression of the settler population’s militant side.
It is for this reason, among others, that the Bennett government’s decisions and actions in response to the terror attacks are so important. Under the current coalition regime, the cooperative and collaborative efforts between Jews and Arabs in Israel are perceived as a threat to those Arabs and Israelis for whom ideological purity is more important than amity. And terror feeds that narrative.
There is speculation that the recent violence was orchestrated in response to last week’s appearance of the foreign ministers of Egypt, UAE, Bahrain and Morocco at an Abraham Accords summit in Israel. Fortunately, the violence didn’t stop the summit. We hope it will not be allowed to jeopardize other cooperative progress that has been made.