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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

May 23, 2003

The “Cycle of Violence” Fallacy

The Arab-Israeli conflict is often framed as a "cycle of violence." A strong Israeli policy against Palestinian terrorism will only spawn more attacks against Israel, goes the logic. Conversely, if only Israel made unilateral concessions to the Palestinians, it would find a partner for peace. This is the conventional wisdom. And it is wrong.

This past weekend, for example, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon met with his Palestinian counterpart Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) for the highest-ranking talks between Israel and the Palestinians since the second Intifada began almost three years ago. Sharon pledged to improve the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian-dominated West Bank and Gaza, at which point Mazen declared, "Palestinians promise to make a genuine and real effort to stop terror." This is precisely the type of peaceful chain reaction that the prevailing "cycle of violence" formula envisages.

Or is it? Just a few hours later, a Hamas terrorist blew himself up on an Israeli commuter bus, killing seven, wounding 20, and throwing this theory on its head. The terrorist attack was a response not to an Israeli incursion into Palestinian territory, as the "cycle of violence" theory hypothesizes, but to the kind of Israeli overtures that terrorism apologists repeatedly champion. In fact, for rejectionist terrorist groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the timing of the blast could not have been better. In addition to his get-together with Mazen, Sharon was slated in the coming days to meet with President Bush to discuss implementing the road map. According to Bush-administration officials, Israel had hinted that it was prepared to ease up on closures, checkpoints, work permits, and other restrictions on Palestinians, as well as release large numbers of Palestinian prisoners and detainees. The meeting was being billed as the most important between Israel and the U.S. since the July 2000 Camp David conference.

Of course, it was Camp David that demonstrated the speciousness of the "cycle of violence" theory. For a combination of political and strategic reasons, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the house to Yasser Arafat: Israel would withdraw from 100 percent of the Gaza Strip and 97 percent of the West Bank, dismantle 63 isolated settlements, and make Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem the capital of a new Palestinian state, with the Palestinians maintaining control over their holy places and having "religious sovereignty" over the contested Temple Mount. Revisionist claims to the contrary, Israel offered to create a "viable" Palestinian state that was contiguous, and not a series of cantons. "Cycle of violence" believers predicted a commensurate Palestinian reduction of terror.[more]