On the 2nd July a Palestinian man seized control of a bulldozer, killed three people and injured dozens in Jerusalem before being shot dead. Israeli police believe the attacker was acting alone – in spite of the efforts of at least three Palestinian militant groups to claim responsibility.
There are fears amongst many commentators that this will cast a shadow over the fragile truce that holds between Israel and Hamas, the Islamists who fought their more moderate rivals Fatah out of Gaza last summer. The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between Hamas and Israel has now held for two weeks, and there are signs of wider diplomatic movement – indirect peace talks have at last been taking place between Israel and Syria.
However, the temptation, fuelled by politicians from the Israeli right, is to regard events like Wednesday’s as the natural outcome of negotiating with the enemy. Arieh Eldad of the National Union said that the attack was the product of “a policy of restraint and immoral dealings with terrorist organisations”. New security measures are likely, further restricting Palestinian movement in Jerusalem at a time when thousands of Palestinians are working on construction sites across the city.
Hamas’ official response to the attack argued that it was “a natural result of the continuation of the Israeli aggression against our people”. While their refusal to condemn the murders jars, it is also to be expected. As we discuss in depth in Pocket Issue: The Middle East Conflict, Hamas’ persistent intransigence and hostility, moral blame aside, is inseparable from Israeli policy.
Hamas’ hostile rhetoric will be difficult for moderate Israeli politicians to deal with in the face of an angry Israeli public. But calls for more far-reaching retaliation would be counter-productive at a time when any encouragement to Hamas to break the truce should be avoided.
It is unlikely that the bulldozer attack alone will lead to the unraveling of recent progress. But it serves as a chilling reminder of the fragility of such gains, and how easily they can be reversed.