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Destabilizing the Last Stable Area in the Middle East

Speaking to J Street’s annual conference last week, Vice President Joe Biden said he is often asked why his government has made Israeli-Palestinian peace a priority at a time when that conflict is relatively calm, while the rest of the Middle East is exploding. His response was that it offers the best chance of introducing stability into the region.

Even disregarding the absurd assumption that Israeli-Palestinian peace would do anything to ease the bloodletting in, say, Syria or Egypt, this statement is fatuous. Because the evidence shows that far from engendering stability, the administration’s peace push has been rapidly destabilizing what had hitherto been the Mideast’s quietest region.

Since the talks resumed in late July, the deterioration has been swift. According to the Shin Bet security service, the number of actual and attempted Palestinian terror attacks almost doubled over the space of just one month, from 68 in August to 133 in September. September’s attacks also resulted in two Israeli fatalities–a low number by historical standards, but still double the total for the entire preceding eight months. And October opened grimly, with terrorists shooting a 9-year-old Israeli girl in the chest as she stood on her balcony.

But if a new poll is accurate, worse is yet to come: According to a survey published by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion last week, 58 percent of Palestinians expect a third intifada to erupt if the current negotiations fail to produce an agreement. Given that 70 percent of Palestinians and 80 percent of Israelis expect the talks to fail, the chances of a new intifada are looking good.

This is especially true because, under the U.S.-brokered deal that restarted the negotiations, Israel must release 104 veteran Palestinian terrorists over the course of the talks, all of whom are serving lengthy jail terms for involvement in deadly attacks. History shows that large-scale terrorist releases are an excellent predictor of future violence: The 1,150 terrorists Israel released in a 1985 prisoner exchange, for instance, played a major role in starting the first intifada two years later, while the thousands of terrorists released under the 1993 Oslo Accord played a major role in launching the second intifada in 2000. Thus these new releases, coming on top of the 1,027 terrorists Israel released in a 2011 swap for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, will provide Palestinians with plenty of experienced leadership to organize a new wave of deadly terror.

Former Labor MK Einat Wilf–not exactly a hawk–wrote in August that she dreaded the resumed talks, because “For more than 20 years, peace talks meant more terrorism and more death,” whereas “During the last few years without negotiations, the number of Israelis and Palestinians killed as a result of violent conflict between them has been the lowest in decades.” If a final-status agreement were actually achievable, the risk would be justified. But it’s irresponsible to endanger this fragile state of non-war by launching talks that almost nobody on either side thinks will succeed, she argued, because on this issue, trying and failing is much worse than not trying at all.

Many people on both sides told U.S. officials the same thing. But the Obama administration, in its hubris, was determined to end a conflict that it claimed had been “a major source of instability for far too long.” And it has thereby destabilized the Middle East’s last oasis of stability with its own two hands.


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