What Is Going on With Israel This Week?

There’s no other way of saying this: Israel didn’t make any friends this week. In the latest installment of the only-Jordan-doesn’t-hate-Israel-kinda-sorta saga, Israeli forces bombed a “terror tunnel” that Hamas fighters used to come from Gaza to Israel Friday, after a Hamas-initiated blast wounded several Israeli troops at another similar tunnel. The news comes after a complicated week, where it almost looked like Israel had negotiated a ceasefire with the Palestinians. The country released 26 Palestinian prisoners before announcing plans to expand settlements in the West Bank by thousands of residences. Then on Wednesday, Israeli forces killed a 22-year-old Palestinian who was part of a group throwing stones at Israeli forces, prompting a response from Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas that the killing was “cold-blooded.”

And that’s just Israel’s problems with the Palestinians. On Thursday, news came out that Israeli forces had struck a Syrian port to destroy a batch of Russian missiles. The weapons were reportedly being given by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s forces to the government’s allies in nearby Lebanon: the militant group Hezbollah. Hezbollah has been a steady supplier of fighters to back Assad’s forces in the Syrian civil war.

Granted, some of these strikes were well justified. Hezbollah, for example, has said it would attack Israel if the international community threatened Assad. Trying to keep weapons out of its hands is understandable. At the moment, though, it seems in both Hezbollah and Israel’s best interests to keep Assad in power; an al Qaeda backed government next door was never good for anyone. Likewise, blowing up “terror tunnels” is legit — terrorist attack prevention is well within any country’s rights.

But shooting a 22-year-old throwing rocks? Maybe less so. Squandering hopes of a peace agreement by expanding settlements in the West Bank? Well, that’s where you’ve lost me.

As Elisheva Goldberg reported for Open Zion this week, the hidden story behind Secretary of State John Kerry’s historic peace talks a few months back is that the peace process came at such a cost that it was hardly a peace process at all. Apparently, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to promise Naftali Bennett, a far-right MP, that the price for each prisoner release would be an expansion of settlements in the West Bank. You know: we give the Palestinians back their people, but we take back some of the land. Goldberg says that such a price has made it “distinctly clear that the Israeli right’s singular goal is to make a two-state framework impossible.” And the worst part is: Kerry reportedly knew about — and OK’d — the deal.

“Israel is going down a slippery slope. First, we released one terrorist for one soldier. Then 100 terrorists for one soldier, then 100 terrorists for a corpse, and now 100 terrorists for nothing,” Bennett said, neglecting to mention the settlements. If the release of prisoners — many of whom in fact did commit heinous crimes, like murder — had indeed been for nothing, it might have pushed forward peace talks. For settlements? Not so much.

Unsurprisingly, the events of the last week have pushed peace prospects even further back. Another Open Zion report from the funeral of a Palestinian militant — not the young man killed while throwing stones — found an increased readiness for armed resistance and a disillusionment with both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Forces, which of course is very bad news.

Those of us hoping for both peace and the continued existence of the state of Israel have got to hold our breath. The way things are going, it looks like soon, we might have neither one nor the other.