Recalculating Israel's Policy Route Toward Escalation

Since the Jewish High Holidays began in mid-September, Israel has been experiencing a violent escalation from Palestinians, initially particularly at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and now also in other parts of the city, in the West Bank and across Israel. In such times, we Israelis, opposition and coalition alike, are united in confronting the terror attacks against Israeli civilians and the harsh incitement that accompanies them. The Israeli security forces are doing their best to contain and control the escalation in a manner that assures minimal casualties on both sides.

On top of the important military and police efforts, Prime Minister Netanyahu has over the last week taken two political steps in order to calm the situation. First, he publicly announced a settlement freeze in the West Bank, explaining that this is a controversial Israeli policy. Second, he issued an order to stop the entry of all Israeli ministers and Knesset members to the Temple Mount, explaining that "we do not need more matches to set the ground afire." Neither step was easy for Netanyahu to take, and neither step is easy from an Israeli public opinion perspective. Both are significant from a Palestinian perspective.

But much more can and should be done. The prime minister's steps are ultimately about avoiding certain kinds of action for a limited duration. Resuming them could renew controversy about Israel's commitment to the two-state solution and again trigger violence. Moreover, both steps are unilateral in nature and do not seek to promote a constructive relationship with a Palestinian interlocutor. This even though it is clear to everyone that eventually Israelis and Palestinians would have to live together and to find a solution together.

Israel could and should go beyond these steps. We should have two goals in mind, not one: calming the situation and generating movement toward the two-state solution and the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In order to calm the situation, Israel should certainly increase policing, but strive to do so in a manner that does not further feed radicalization: primarily by temporarily separating settlers from Palestinians and, where needed in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel, Israeli hotheads from Palestinian ones.

Moreover, we must do more in order to lower the tensions at the Temple Mount, the holiest place in the world for us Jews, which for Muslims is the al-Aqsa Mosque. This site was and remains the epicenter of violence and incitement. Various Palestinian organizations, most notably the northern branch of the Islamic movement in Israel, spread lies about Israel's intentions to destroy the mosque. This is pure incitement that pushes young Palestinians to willfully become shahids (martyrs).

To deal with this challenge, I suggest we should focus on three elements: ensuring supervised and inspected visiting access to everyone to the site; inviting Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli expert archeologists to regularly monitor, together, the subterranean spaces under the Temple Mount and publicly disprove the libel that Israel or the Palestinians are digging under the mosque; and deepen our cooperation with the Waqf—the Jordanian organization responsible for administering it—so that it would help to promote order among the Muslim population at the holy site.

We must however also eagerly pursue the two-state solution. Not (only) for the Palestinians, but (also) for us. We need to do so as it is the only way for Israel to be a democratic nation state for the Jewish people, to promise Jewish majority in the Israeli state, and to promise the continuing of the Zionist dream. Israel should pursue this direction irrespective of Palestinian violence, at the pace it deems correct and while defending Israel's vital interests. Our policy should not rely only on negotiating a final status agreement. Rather, we should be gradually creating a two-state reality on the ground in preparation for—and if possible in parallel to—final status negotiations.

Israel should focus on three key diplomatic steps.

First, Israel should bi-laterally recognize a Palestinian state, under the condition that this recognition would be done in a manner that does not affect in any way future negotiations over final status issues that are vital for Israel (borders, etc.), and while promising that all those final issues will be decided only by bi-lateral negotiations. Such recognition will keep Israel's interests safe, will take the one-state option off the table, and will transform the dispute from whether there should be one or two states to what character and relations the two states would have.

Second, Israel should formally respond, not fully accept, but respond for the first time, to the Arab Peace Initiative. The initiative is supported by 22 Arab states that, crudely put, would normalize their relations with Israel if a Palestinian state was to be established. The fact that Israel never replied to it was a mistake.

Third, Israel should announce it intends to implement unfulfilled commitments from previous agreements, primarily the territorial ones that would allocate additional parts of the West Bank "C area," especially those that Israel doesn't want or need to control, to direct Palestinian control.

In my recently published diplomatic outline, I explain how these three key streps will create significant advantage for Israel, and work to create a more genuine and strong bi-lateral process. You are welcome to read it.

MK Hilik Bar is secretary general of the Israeli Labour Party and deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset.