Israeli policy led to Jerusalem bloodshed

Defenders of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line politics have presented his position as the only way to secure peace for Israel. Netanyahu’s actions, including the decision to reopen the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Jewish settlement, leaves the Palestinian leadership with few diplomatic options. The recent eruption of violence — leaving 14 Israelis and 55 Palestinians dead — clearly indicates that Netanyahu’s return to old-school Israeli politics will lead to the same historic bloodshed.
The peace process was negotiated under the assumption that both sides would be united in an attempt to keep extremism in check and find middle ground in a centuries-old battle. But the untried ideals of Yitzhak Rabin, and his successor Shimon Perez, made many Israelis nervous. When violence resurfaced, in the form of Rabin’s assassination by a Jewish extremist and a series of bombings by Islamic militants, Netanyahu’s familiar hard line won out. The bombings swayed the voters from Perez, but by placing an uncompromising government that was not particularly adept at coalition-building in power, Israel has effectively halted the peace process.
After Israel opened a tunnel near Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem last week, precipitating the latest round of violence, President Clinton called for the current emergency summit meeting in Washington, D.C. But as Netanyahu sits down to negotiations, just what type of action he is willing to take in the interest of peace is still unclear.
American interests in the Middle East have been closely tied to Israel since its founding in 1948. President Clinton’s role in negotiating the peace process has been one of his most important actions in foreign policy. But with the uncertainty and stubbornness of Netanyahu’s position, the United States’ role will be far more difficult this time around.
The United States abstained from taking part in the recent United Nations vote that unanimously condemned Netanyahu, but American diplomats are still in the position of trying to determine how to renegotiate the peace between two parties that have hardened themselves into all-too-familiar positions. Although Clinton may have succeeded in getting both Netanyahu and Arafat to Washington, Israelis and Palestinians will be meeting separately for most of the session. No one is sure which issues, if any, are open for serious negotiation.
As the current summit in Washington refocuses attention on Israel and its tenuous situation, it is time for Netanyahu to step forward and take responsibility for his policies and their consequences. The latest outbreak of violence may be immediately tied to the decision to reopen the Jerusalem tunnel, but if Netanyahu refuses to acknowledge any of Rabin’s diplomatic wisdom, Israel will once again revert to the cycle of violence that has been its legacy.