In the last six weeks, nineteen Israelis have been killed in terror attacks, and Israeli authorities expect the violence to continue. Danielle Pletka argues that “there is no one theme, no one group that can claim responsibility.” To get to the root of the problem, she suggests, Washington should shift its focus from attempting to identify particular sponsors of Palestinian terror or falling back on conventional peace-process solutions. Instead, policymakers should examine the specific problems facing Palestinians and the ways in which they interpret these challenges.
First, what do Palestinians believe? Fine work by both the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the veteran Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki lay bare part of the trouble. Almost half of Palestinians polled believe “armed struggle” is the solution to their problems. Fully 58 percent oppose a two-state solution; 70 percent oppose “unconditional return to negotiations with Israel”; almost as many oppose dialogue with the United States. Most troubling of all, “73 percent believe the Quran contains a prophecy about the demise of the state of Israel, but only 32 percent think the year for this demise is 2022.” Yikes, “only” 32 percent (and it’s already May!).
Another source of trouble is the Palestinian economy: vulnerable before COVID and uniquely dependent on foreign assistance, Palestinians endured a dramatic economic downturn, job losses and a continued contraction of aid inflows—per the World Bank from “27 percent of GDP in 2008 to 1.8 percent in 2021.” There has been some post-COVID recovery, with the unemployment rate reportedly “bouncing back” to around (a still unfathomable) 25 percent in the West Bank and Gaza, though it is likely substantially higher in Gaza. Among younger people, the story is starker.
There is a growing sense among Palestinians that they are being left behind by history. Israel has made peace with four Arab states in the last two years, and will likely ink additional agreements before too long—with or without encouragement from Washington. “Palestine” the cause has lost its luster among all but the most extreme of governments. Should it be any surprise that without work, without economic security, without political and civil society, and with incessant governmental encouragement to kill and glorification of murder, young men turn to violence? It doesn’t excuse it, but it helps to explain it.