Peace Without an Olive Branch

Even before the shattered glass on the ground had been swept up and the slashed tires replaced with fresh rubber, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu responded to the recent Price Tag attack in the Arab-Israeli town of Abu Ghosh by making a vow to "crack down" on the perpetrators with "full force."

Six months later, it is evident that Netanyahu's vows were yet another batch of empty promises and rhetoric.

As this is an issue that undoubtedly has an impact on both sides of the fence, it places a certain degree of pressure on the Israeli authorities to act accordingly. Given that the Israeli military and security service is the strongest in the Middle East, there is no excuse for their incapability of cracking down on these radical movements, which aim to intimidate and instill fear in the Palestinians.

2013 marked a year in Israeli-Palestinian affairs in which the flame came dangerously close to igniting the powder keg of violence in the West Bank, as radical Israeli settlers increased the fervor and frequency of Price Tag attacks during the past year. Recent UN figures show that the amount of settler attacks against Palestinians has quadrupled over the past eight years. What is most alarming is recent video footage captured exposes Israeli security forces practically functioning as an armed entourage to a group of masked vandals, heading towards a Palestinian village to conduct an attack. In response, both Arab and Israeli voices lashed out against the Israeli government's apathy on appropriately reprimanding the perpetrators of such crimes and making a serious effort on curbing such violence.

Over the past three months, notable commentators from both sides of the conflict have increasingly become sterner in their warnings against the price of allowing Price Tag attacks to continue. It is not a secret that the stakes for allowing such violence to rage on in the West Bank are extremely high. Idleness by the authorities in the face of such cowardly lawlessness only gives the perpetrators greater incentives to act.

From the Israeli perspective, the commentary has largely focused on the politics of such attacks, as they position the Israeli government directly against the settlement enterprise, an extremely sensitive topic in Israel's political affairs. Uri Misgav made one of the strongest arguments against the tangled web that the government of Israel has found itself in combating the vandals emanating from the settler movement. Basing his argument on the recent statement by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who labeled price tags as "terrorism," Mr. Misgav eloquently made the case that Israel has abandoned its usual tactics in the face of terrorism. Instead of destroying the infrastructure of the "terrorists," the Israeli government has chosen to allow them to flourish along with the settlement enterprise.

A harsher warning came from Ben Caspit in Al Monitor who warned that all trends point in the direction that these factions of Israeli settlers appear absolutely determined to ignite a third intifada in the West Bank between themselves and Palestinian factions. In an editorial by Ha'aretz, the board reprimanded the government of Israel by stating the facts that everyone knows: Israel is completely capable of thwarting these attacks and absolutely needs to begin making a serious effort in combating Jewish terrorism.

Palestinian commentators expressed outrage over Israel's practice of 'crime with no punishment' when it comes to the delinquencies of its settler population. Ziad Asali, President of the American Task Force on Palestine, commented in Ha'aretz by arguing that considering the suffering of the occupation, the least the Israeli government could do is to control the lawlessness of its citizens, who are in fact living on the soil of what could soon be an independent Palestinian state. Dr. Asali highlighted the asymmetry of power that dominates the West Bank and settler movement. Settlers are in fact citizens of the State of Israel and therefore subject to the appropriate rights and responsibilities of such citizenship, while on the other hand the Palestinians are an unprotected and defenseless population. Daoud Kuttab, writing for Al-Monitor highlighted the determination of fringe Israeli settlers to continue to challenge the connection of the Palestinian people's connection to their land through their targeted attacks against olive trees. Kuttab argues that these price tag attacks best sum up the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the struggle for land. In addition to Kuttab and Asali's comments, Youssef Munayyer, Executive Director of the Palestine Center, pointed out that by not carrying out the appropriate criminal action against their lawless vandals, the Israeli government is in fact violating international law by evading its responsibilities as an occupying power.

The objectives of Price Tags hit at the very heart of the Palestinian national conscious. The plight of the Palestinian olive trees was highlighted during the 2013 olive harvest, as this year marked the grandest scales of attacks against olive groves in recent years, with over 4,000 trees being destroyed. Olive trees have rich, ancient historical roots in Palestine, with some trees being thousands of years old. More importantly, they are a symbol of the Palestinian people's deeply rooted connection to their homeland that is often viciously disputed by right-wing Israelis. Settlers have made it a top priority to uproot the dwindling connections Palestinians have left to their historical homeland.

Price Tag attacks are not simply limited to Palestinian property such as farmland or vehicles, the most recent attacks have specifically targeted children and Muslim houses of worship. Matt Surrosco, writing in Open Zion, noted that when children are targeted, this phenomenon transforms into a very different animal. It is clear, he observed, that it is at the very core of the goal of price taggers to make life a living hell for the average Palestinian.

The Israeli government continually emphasizes their need to ensure their security throughout peace negotiations, but the Palestinians assurances for security are so often overlooked and disregarded. The Palestinian Authority must be guaranteed that the security of the Palestinian people will be respected as well by the Israeli authorities.

Olive branches and leaves have long served the purpose of symbols of peace and harmony. "Extending an olive branch" of peace is becoming impossible, as all of the olive trees are being destroyed.