I’ve been slowly wading through the 106-page magazine Haaretz put out in honor of its Israel Conference on Peace earlier this month. It contains articles by 50 Israeli, Palestinian and Western contributors, most of whom recite the same talking points veteran peace processors have used for years. But one new argument that has cropped up repeatedly underscores the degree to which the “peace industry” completely disregards historical fact: the claim that the recent wave of Palestinian attacks “proves” a Palestinian state is necessary for Israel’s security. The truth is that for all the horror of the current violence, a simple comparison with the second intifada shows that Israel suffered far more when Palestinians actually controlled their own territory.
Over the last 53 days, Palestinians have killed 20 Israelis and wounded 182. If this pace continued for a year, the number of fatalities would total 138, one of the highest annual death tolls due to terror in Israel’s history. So it’s understandable that people might think things could hardly be worse – until you consider that this projected annual total is roughly equivalent to the number of Israelis killed during a single month of the second intifada (March 2002, with 134 dead).
Altogether, Palestinians killed 452 Israelis in the worst year of that intifada (2002), along with over 200 in both the preceding and following years; thousands of other Israelis were wounded. And there’s one major reason why the death toll then was so much higher than it is now: Sizable chunks of the West Bank were under full Palestinian control as a result of the Oslo Accords. Israeli troops never entered those areas, which consequently served as safe havens where terrorist groups could plan and train for attacks, build bombs and do all the other work necessary to prepare the kind of mass-casualty attacks that were the second intifada’s hallmark.
That’s why the death toll began dropping dramatically once the Israel Defense Forces reasserted control over these areas in mid-2002: The security services spent the next several years systematically collecting intelligence about terrorist organizations and using it to degrade their capabilities, with the result that Israeli fatalities dropped by around 50 percent a year in each of the next five years – from 452 in 2002 to 208 in 2003, 117 in 2004, 56 in 2005, 30 in 2006 and 13 in 2007. And that’s also why the current violence hasn’t included any mass-casualty attacks: Since the IDF still controls the West Bank, it has been able to thwart terrorist organizations’ efforts to perpetrate them.
The current violence has thus relied mainly on lone-wolf attacks. These are harder to prevent, but they’re also less deadly.
Hence even though the current situation is poor, a return to the days of the second intifada would hardly be an improvement. And a Palestinian state would necessarily entail returning to the very situation that made the second intifada possible – an IDF withdrawal from much of the West Bank.
Elsewhere in the world, even ardent proponents of a Palestinian state seem to understand the importance of not letting terrorists control territory. Earlier this month, for instance, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen argued that in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris, the West must eliminate ISIS’s “stronghold in Syria and Iraq,” because terrorists “cannot be allowed any longer to control territory on which they are able to organize, finance, direct and plan their savagery.” But when it comes to Israel, people like Cohen somehow seem to feel this principle no longer applies.
Yet this basic truth is no less true for Palestinian terrorists, and it was inscribed on Israeli hearts in blood during the second intifada: Denying terrorists a territorial base won’t eliminate terror, but granting them a territorial base will ensure the terror escalates by orders of magnitude. Thus bad as the current situation is for Israel, the alternative of a Palestinian state would be much, much worse.