An ominously familiar scene unfolded on Tuesday night in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak—one that Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said was indicative of “a new wave of terrorism” washing over the country.
Gruesome video of that event showed an attacker, dressed all in black, firing an M16 assault rifle indiscriminately at passersby. The attacker shot and killed four, including a police officer, before he was neutralized. The gunman was later identified as a 27-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank. While no terrorist organization has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, several militant groups—including Hamas—welcomed this act of barbarism.
Another grimly familiar spectacle occurred shortly thereafter in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. As news of the bloodshed spread inside Gaza, images of militants handing out celebratory sweets to locals flooded social media. It was all evocative of the painful and persistent violence that has colored so much of the region’s history, and it may presage even more terrible events yet to come. This mass shooting was the fifth in a recent series of terrorist acts that have so far taken 11 lives inside Israel. That’s more violent death than Israel has experienced outside wartime in years.
“After a period of quiet, there is a violent eruption by those who want to destroy us, those who want to hurt us at any price,” Bennett said in a recorded address. “They are prepared to die so that we will not live in peace.” It’s enough to leave observers with a terrible sense of déjà vu. Yet, a sense that the bad old days might be back is belied by the truly unfamiliar—indeed, seminal—circumstances that likely contributed to this spate of violence.
The backdrop against which these attacks were set is the full flowering of Israel’s emergence on its regional stage as a key power—not just militarily but diplomatically, too. This week, the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Secretary of State Antony Blinken, traveled to a resort in the Negev desert in Israel for a formal diplomatic summit. There, the representatives of these Arab nations coordinated with the Jewish state’s head of diplomatic affairs on issues ranging from the extraordinary to the mundane.
The assembled ministers devoted much attention to the looming threat posed by Iran. How these formerly hostile powers can counter the threat posed by the Islamic Republic’s rapidly advancing nuclear and ballistic-missile programs and the activity of its militant proxy groups in the region dominated proceedings. But the diplomats also discussed matters such as preserving mutual food security in the event of shortages resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, energy cooperation and technology sharing, maritime and navigation rights, economic integration, and, of course, the status of the Palestinian territories. The thaw in relations between Israel and its neighbors represented by the Abraham Accords is more than symbolic. This summit signals an epochal shift in the region.
In another departure from past practice, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, condemned the latest terrorist attack (as did Arab Israeli members of Israel’s coalition government). “We all aim to realize stability,” he said. Save these comments, Ramallah has been conspicuously quiet.
This reaction contrasts with the agitation in which Abbas’s regime engaged last year after it abruptly canceled elections that the ruling Palestinian Authority fully expected to lose. When it was in Ramallah’s interest, it wasted no time fomenting unrest that culminated in clashes inside the Temple Mount complex, during which Israeli police were attacked with rocks and explosive devices. Ostensibly as response to an ongoing court case involving a property dispute in East Jerusalem—which has not yet been resolved—that spate of violence spiraled into a gloomily familiar conflict. We may not be seeing that sort of reaction now, in part, because Abbas knows that his bread is buttered in the Sunni Arab world.
Average Palestinians, too, are aware of the stakes. West Bank citizens have been crossing the border into Israel legally in increasing numbers in recent years. There, they seek out and find better-paying jobs, food and consumer goods, and maintain interpersonal relationships with their Israeli counterparts. According to reporting, the border barriers have become porous in many areas and construction has stalled in areas where barriers are slated to go up. One Israeli NGO worker told the Guardian that “soldiers are now supposed to turn a blind eye to the Palestinians coming in.” This, he suggested, was a concession to the mutually beneficial relationship developing between Israel and the West Bank; the former gets affordable labor, and the latter receives the peace that accompanies relief from “economic pressure.”
But reports that indicate at least some of the attackers who terrorized Israel over the last week slipped through holes in the fence betray the short-sightedness of the Guardian’s contention that the conditions necessitating a wall separating the two peoples are “not a problem anymore.” Palestinian violence remains a threat to Israeli security.
The attacks have highlighted the schism between the two increasingly distinct Palestinian territories—not just in their mutually exclusive regimes but their political cultures—and it has revealed the durability of Israel’s working relationship with its Arab neighbors. It remains to be seen, however, whether this latest wave of Palestinian terror is a portent of something worse.