News / Middle East

Column: Israel Shouldn't Turn Tragedy into Fiasco

The murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank has sent shock waves through Israeli and Palestinian society and raised fears that the relatively quiescent Arab-Israeli front will explode into a new war.

A stormy Israeli cabinet session considered a variety of retaliatory options for the killings of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrah, including another major military operation against Hamas in Gaza and further boosting Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank.

In fact, the steps already taken by Israeli authorities in the 18 days between the boys’ disappearance and the discovery of their bodies under a pile of rocks not far from their settlement homes amounted to pre-emptive retaliation: Hundreds of Hamas operatives in the West Bank were arrested and five young Palestinians killed by Israeli forces responding to violent protests. In the immediate aftermath of the confirmation of the murders, Israel destroyed the homes of the suspected killers and bombarded largely empty fields in Gaza while Hamas leaders went into hiding.

Israel is right to hunt down the two Palestinians who are believed responsible for the killings; to do more and inflict additional mass punishment on the entire Palestinian population is simply to perpetuate the violence and deepen generations-old grievances.

Israel and the West Bank have been relatively quiet during a period of intense turmoil in the region but it was naïve to assume they would stay that way in the absence of serious peace negotiations.

During nine months of talks, Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu never tabled a proposal demarcating possible borders for a Palestinian state, while profiting from cooperation by Palestinian security forces.

The U.S.-mediated negotiations collapsed in April after Netanyahu reneged on a third promised Palestinian prisoner release and the Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas sought recognition from 15 U.N.-related agencies. The final shoe dropped last week when the State Department announced that Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, was resigning as U.S. special envoy for Arab-Israeli peace and returning to his Washington think tank.

Recent polls show deepening pessimism among both Israelis and Palestinians about the prospects for a two-state solution. Sixty percent of Palestinians on the West Bank now believe that an Israeli state and a Palestinian state cannot peacefully co-exist. Nearly half – 45 percent – of Israelis agree with them.

Strong leadership could change those numbers. But Abbas is old and thinking about stepping down while Netanyahu wants to stay in power and fears being outflanked by politicians to his right. Meanwhile, the Barack Obama administration appears to have given up. It never put forward its own peace plan, acknowledging that it lacked the political will to try to compel either party to accept U.S. ideas. These days, U.S. officials are more concerned about staving off Israeli objections to a potential nuclear deal with Iran and saving what remains of Iraq than trying to resolve what is still a core issue provoking anti-U.S. and anti-Israel sentiment throughout the region and the wider Muslim world.

Short-termism also infects Israelis, who fear taking any risks for peace and seem to believe that military might alone will preserve their control indefinitely over territory that soon will be neither majority Jewish nor democratic. To rely on military power alone, however, condemns Israel to a never-ending cycle of violence and diminishing international support.

The late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin used to say that Israel should “fight terrorism as if there is no peace process and pursue peace as if there is no terrorism.” Unfortunately, Israel’s current leaders have forgotten the second part of the equation.

The Palestinian leadership, too, bears responsibility for not confronting a clan that has a history of undermining peace agreements and even acting counter to the direction of Hamas. The murder of the Israeli teens is a major blow to the unity agreement Abbas reached with Hamas last month; how the Palestinian Authority deals with this incident will likely determine the future of that accord. However, an overly aggressive Israeli response will only strengthen groups even more radical than Hamas, and make it more difficult for Abbas to cooperate with Israel in security matters going forward.

As shown by the growth of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIL) – now styling itself hubristically as the Islamic State – the Arab world is seething with anger and frustration. Much of that anger is now playing out in fighting between Arabs. Inevitably, however, Israel and the United States will also be targets. Israeli leaders must think carefully about how they retaliate for the deaths of these unfortunate teenagers, one of whom was a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen. They should not let this tragedy escalate into a larger confrontation that will only embitter and endanger more Israeli and Palestinian young people in the future.

Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

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Comments page of 4
by: Leroy Padmore from: Jersey City
July 03, 2014 5:14 AM
I advice that before you speak on this subject of Israel and the land, go and do your research right. Just don't say things because you heard other people saying it, study for yourself, do your own personal research. And I challenge you, after you finish doing your research, you will come with the same conclusion that we all are saying, that the land belongs to Israel. There is no way you will do history and don't come up with this conclusion. It is time for us to embrace the truth and stand up for what we believed. And let the whole world hear our voices reign. Let us stop this hypocrisy. and let us stop this media lies. The Palestinians fired thousand of rockets into Israel daily. it wasn't rocks the put the ware house fire in Israel, it was rockets. let us face the facts. So what do you expect Israel to do? sit there and let their people die? please. Enough of this nonsense, everyday, Israel did this, Israel did that,, why for once you people cannot see the wrong doing of the Palestinians, and also the wrongful claim to the land of Israel? why? As for us we will support Israel because we know the truth, and we stand for the truth. We don't care how anybody feel. God Bless Israel
In Response

by: 1worldnow from: Earth
July 03, 2014 7:24 AM
I asked a man from Saudi Arabia if he would give his life to shield an Israeli child from harm being caused by another arab. I have yet to hear a ersponse, not surprising. The same question to you: would you give your life to shield a Palestinian child from harm by another Israeli?

by: Leroy Padmore from: Jersey City
July 02, 2014 7:51 PM
If you are a historian, go back and read about Israel, your history will tell you that the land belongs to the Jews. If you are a Muslim, go back to your Koran, the Koran inits entirety talks about the Children of Israel. which Israel? is it May 15, 1948? or Israel before 1948? the itself has agreed with us, that there were a nation called Israel, there were a people call Jews. If you are a Christian, go back to your Bible and read about Israel, your Bible will tell you that there was a nation called Israel and a people called Jews. There are three guanine evidence to prove that the land of Israel belongs to the Jews. The so call Arabs has no right to the claim of that land.That is a lie that we must slain. The Land is for the Jews.
How in the world you people sit there and call the Palestinians people defenseless? those people fired thousands of rockets into Israel daily, killing the Jewish kids, and not one of you say something? those people are killing the Palestinian Christians on a daily basic, and none of you people say anything about it. But when it comes to Israel, then you guys say whatever you guys want to say. And the truth of the matter, no country will sit there and people fired rocket into their country, Israel has the right to defend itself and to protect its people. And this is the decision that we all stand with Israel. We support Israel. God Bless Israel, let the star of David fly high, Shalom

by: toben crosse from: california
July 02, 2014 3:52 PM
Israel Israel what to do? a bus in blown up many people killed. restrain your response to this act of a desperate attempt by an occupied people who can not fight any other way because the Israeli army is too good for other ways of combat. three teen agers are kidnapped and murdered but the response should not be over reaction in its fury and destructiveness of defenseless people. if the acts of terror that has happened in the past 5 years let alone the history of Israel since 1948 were to have happened in any other country the perpetrators of the terrorist acts would have been mercilessly killed and the organization they belong to wiped out. who is to blame here?
I say the 1960liberials who openly and secretly admired the communist way of winning the hearts and minds of a society. these 1960 radicals turned a blind eye towards the bader mien hoffs and red army brigades and the irish republican armies and the plo of the world because they thought armed struggle would lead to a utopian future. had the response been what it should have been back then we would not be in this middle eastern mess we all share today. the soviet union supported these murderous gangs with money and arms while the liberal establishment in the u. s. and Europe supported them with philosophy and undo attention based on a romantic ideology
and a sense of their own chicken hearted wonder lust \ living a life vicariously through the many criminal gangs of the 1960 and 1970s. hamas should be hit and hit very hard this time around if only to as one commentator has said to show the arabs that enough is enough.

by: caro nero from: ct
July 02, 2014 8:24 AM
A bus accident is a tragedy; a tornado that flattens houses and kill people is a tragedy; flood is a tragedy

Human evil is a tragedy?? From the comfort of your chair you are redefining reality Tell Putin not to make a fiasco; North Korea? SISI? Syria?
People who are trying to defend themselves are making FIASCO?

How come you do not extend this advise to HAMAS who regard Israel in NAZI terms?

by: Leroy Padmore from: Jersey City
July 02, 2014 5:30 AM
Hi Dave1967, Israel still have friends, thank you for supporting Israel. It is a shame that these people know the truth, but refused to stand for the truth. However we will stand for the truth. Israel has the right to defend and to protect its citizens. Those so call Palestinians are the ones who are occupying Israel land. The haters of Israel need to read history or the Koran, the Koran clearly speak in its entirety about the Children of Israel. History speaks about Israel, the Bible speaks about Israel. We support the Jewish State, let Israel level Gaza., Let them pay a hard price, Israel needs to sent a clear message to the Arab nations. Enough is really enough. The Arabs have a clear motive, that is to destroy Israel. Israel needs to fire back harder. We support you Israel, we love you, Be strong Israel, Messiach is coming to give you everlasting peace. Shalom Israel

by: Samuel Prime
July 01, 2014 9:53 PM
Why is there no mention of the barrage of rockets fired from Gaza in the same timeframe as the terrorist abductions of 3 Israeli teens? The two belligerent hostilities are part of the same Hamas strategies to destroy the State of Israel - which, I would remind the author, is the stated mission of Hamas' charter. Israel can respond as severely as it wishes against those who want to destroy it. What could be worse than trying to destroy a state? The US would do the very same thing to defend its citizens.
In Response

by: 1worldnow from: Earth
July 01, 2014 10:17 PM
Not with Obama driving the US over a cliff. Remember, he told us that we didn't need seat belts!

by: Dave1967 from: Tennessee
July 01, 2014 7:53 PM
Israel has every right to invade the occupied territories and decimate or destroy the terrorist organization Hamas! VOA and the US government have a huge anti-Israel bias.
In Response

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
July 02, 2014 7:40 AM
I thought I was the only one who knows that the US and VOA have deep-rooted and strong anti-Israel sentiment. Is it called antisemitism? God bless you Dave 1967. Having noted that I love Israel so much, they blockade my contributions in VOA articles a lot. But I keep writing, if only to continue to bother those idiots for their extreme hate practice employed by, and using, the state media like VOA.
In Response

by: Eric from: New Jersey
July 01, 2014 10:07 PM
Yes, one of the only Western countries that still puts up with Israel's BS has an anti-Israel bias. Please.

It is really refreshing to see this honest piece from the State Department. It is time to end all arms sales to the region so we are no longer complicit in the inevitable orgy of violence that will make the Mideast inhospitable to human life.

The Israelis vote for Likud, the Palestinians vote for Hamas - let them reap what they sow.

by: Anthony from: USA
July 01, 2014 4:35 PM
What is wrong with these people? Talk about morally bankrupt. Murder a few kids here, a few more kids there, but oh no its totally not petty revenge! The other side practically asked for it! History is on our side! Sure the heart of the Jewish/Muslim faith doesn't look too kindly on things like child murder, but our leaders said its ok this time cuz we're so special! Pffft, you just DON'T GET IT is all.

Jeez. Go ahead yall, keep arguing that whole pro-child murder stance of yours so we can all see how freakin horrible you all are.
In Response

by: 1worldnow from: Earth
July 01, 2014 10:24 PM
Well, both sides do believe that God ordered the death of children just to prove a point to the pharaoh! But slavery was making God furious? Oh, what did the Israelites do once they got their freedom? Take a guess......they practiced SLAVERY!!!!! All this madness will never end until the world recognizes religions for what they have become. Until the world will not allow anyone to print lies to justify inhumane activities!

by: BklynBirny from: US
July 01, 2014 3:31 PM
Ms. Slavin is exactly wrong. A weak response by Israel will lead directly to more obscene violence and more dead Israelis. Israel needs to over-react, ignore idiotic calls for restraint from the likes of this writer, and wipe Hamas from the face of this earth, along with anyone who gets in the way.

by: Thomas from: Franks
July 01, 2014 3:31 PM
Hamas is a TERRORIST organisation and should be COMPLETELY DESTROYED. PERIOD.
In Response

by: 1worldnow from: Earth
July 01, 2014 10:47 PM
You got that right! Even though so many defensless women and children will be caught in the middle, hurray, kill and keep killing. Maybe Israel can resurrect them after they are dead, and then kill them again, but in a more entertaining way! It's a party! Don't forget to RSVP.
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