TIME Middle East

How Israel’s Coalition Government Collapsed

Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at his office in Jerusalem
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at his office in Jerusalem on December 2, 2014. Gali Tibbon—Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accuses cabinet members of a "putsch"

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired two of his most prominent ministers on Tuesday evening and called for new elections, underscoring his interest in establishing a right-wing government more loyal to his agenda.

The three-term premier announced at a press conference Tuesday that he was ousting Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid, accusing them of openly rebelling against him and preventing him from governing the country. Livni joined Netanyahu’s government on the condition that he allow her to renew peace talks with the Palestinians, and Lapid had promised to take on socioeconomic reforms and Israel’s housing crisis.

“You can call it a putsch, and like this you can’t govern and can’t run a country,” Netanyahu said in a prime-time press conference. “I will not agree to a situation in which ministers attack the government from within.” Speaking as if he was simultaneously launching a new campaign, he urged voters to give him a “bigger ruling party” – the right-wing Likud – adding, “if you want a government of the center-right and right, then I ask to give you your vote to us.”

Over the past week, Israeli media had begun to predict that the bad blood inside Netanyahu’s coalition government had reached toxic new levels, and that it has pushed the hawkish leader to opt for new elections. The most recent bone of contention was a plan on the part of Lapid and his Yesh Atid party to cancel a tax on apartment purchases for first-time home buyers as a way to alleviate the cost-of-living crisis that Lapid had pledged to solve.

But Netanyahu decided to block that with little explanation, as well as a health-care reform plan, which in turn led Lapid to threaten to bolt the coalition. In his speech, Netanyahu condemned Livni for daring to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas when she had been told not to, highlighting their differences over the failure of the peace talks in April.

The most severe division, however, was over the question of Israel’s status – or not—as a Jewish nation. Together, Lapid and Livni were among the foremost opponents to the passage by Netanyahu’s cabinet of an initial draft of a controversial bill declaring Israel a nation state. Netanyahu says he is dedicated to passing some version of this legislation so as to cement Israel’s status as a Jewish state by law, which he argues is necessary for the country’s survival. Critics say this would create an undemocratic two-tier system which makes Israeli Arabs and other non-Jewish minorities inferior citizens.

“You could say that it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Gadi Wolfsfeld, a political scientist at the IDC Herzliya, a university near Tel Aviv, tells TIME. “I take him at his word. He can’t really govern, he can’t really get legislation passed. He is not a leader right now, in that he can’t run the country as he would like to. Netanyahu didn’t want this government in the first place, and he prefers what he calls, his ‘natural allies.’”

Those allies are the ultra-Orthodox parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas. These are parties which have been willing to join coalitions in left and right-leaning governments, because their main goals are to protect their religious way of life and to secure funding for schools and other ultra-Orthodox institutions. But with secular-religious tensions on the rise, Lapid promised to push back against the control of the ultra-Orthodox over issues like marriage rights, and to pass a new draft law requiring men from religious communities to serve in the army, overturning an exemption in existence since the founding of the state.

Netanyahu appears to be banking on Likud continuing to garner the most votes – polls have found that would be the case if elections were held today – and that he can then team up with these ultra-Orthodox parties, as well as the nationalist parties led by right-wingers Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi, or the Jewish House) and Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beytenu, or Israel is Our Home).

Israel’s political shake-up takes places against a backdrop of complete stagnation in the Israeli-Palestinian political process and a wave of violence that has been labeled by some as the stirrings of a new intifada, or Palestinian uprising. But the months ahead of yet-to-be-determined Israeli elections – several Israeli media outlets suggested the date would be in March – mean that Netanyahu now has a period in which he can tell various foreign leaders that peace will have to wait.

“One of the great things about elections is that it gets the world off his back,” Wolfsfeld quips. “No one will be able to say, what about the peace process, because he can say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m busy having elections now.’” If violence and unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank continues, it will likely push more voters into Netanyahu’s camp, because he has positioned himself as the Israeli leader who is tough on terrorism. “The more there’s violence,” says Wolfsfeld, “the more his party’s strength will go up.”

TIME Middle East

Jerusalem’s Fragile Peace Splintered by Bloody Attacks

Israeli security personnel run next to a synagogue, where a suspected Palestinian attack took place, in Jerusalem, Nov. 18, 2014.
Israeli security personnel run next to a synagogue, where a suspected Palestinian attack took place, in Jerusalem on Nov. 18, 2014. Ronen Zvulun—Reuters

The killings of 5 people by 2 Palestinians in Jerusalem has driven a wedge between Arabs and Jews in the uneasily divided city

David Ehrlich, an Israeli writer, has been running a popular literary café and restaurant in downtown Jerusalem for the last 20 years. Popular, that is, except for times like these, when the city is so on edge that people tend to rush home from work and huddle with their families around the television.

“There are hardly any tourists, people from the Tel Aviv area will not come to Jerusalem, and the Jerusalemites just don’t feel like it,” says Ehrlich, whose latest short story collection is entitled Who Will Die Last: Stories of Life in Israel. He has employed Palestinians in the café almost since he founded it, making his eatery, Tmol Shilshom, one of countless examples in the holy city of Jews and Arabs working side by side.

“We’ve had Jews and Arabs work together for many years, and I’ve always been proud of it. I feel it’s the right thing in Jerusalem, because we are a mixed city. I don’t believe in segregation anywhere, and definitely not in my city,” Erlich tells TIME. “It doesn’t make sense to me that we’ll live so close by and pretend that the other doesn’t exist.”

But this de facto, often friendly coexistence can mask how very differently Israelis and Palestinians perceive reality. On Monday, the day before five people were killed in a bloody attack on a West Jerusalem synagogue by two Palestinians from East Jerusalem, two of Ehrlich’s employees showed him some cell phone images of the body of Yousef al-Ramouni, a Palestinian bus driver whose death is a subject of controversy. To Ehrlich, the mark across the man’s neck made it seem believable that he had hung himself, as Israeli forensic officials ruled. But in the eyes of Ehrlich’s workers, it clearly looked like a murder.

“When horrible things happen, they feel empathy for me and I feel it for them,” Ehrlich explains. “On the other hand, they listen to their news and I listen to mine, and their understanding and reading of events is very, very different.”

The synagogue massacre—the latest in a series of attacks linked to the feud over the Temple Mount, or Noble Sanctuary — has already been dubbed by some in the Israeli and Palestinian media the “Jerusalem Intifada” and by others, the “Jerusalem War.” Some added that it seemed to be taking inspiration from the Islamic State, given the use of knives and an ax in Tuesday’s attack. Many though not all of the Palestinian attacks on Israelis over the last month have been in Jerusalem, and the perpetrators have all come from Jerusalem.

That stands in stark contrast to the Second Intifada, or uprising, from 2000 to 2004, which largely involved suicide bombers from the West Bank. Now, Israelis are finding that they are facing violence that comes from within Jerusalem’s self-declared municipal boundaries – not from beyond the wall or separation barrier built to stop the aforementioned suicide bombers from entering Israel.

This is having a chilling effect on this ordinarily open city. Zakaria al-Qaq, a Palestinian expert in national security at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, says that tens of thousands of Palestinians who work, shop and get various services in West Jerusalem are finding that the city is developing invisible boundaries that are becoming dangerous to cross.

“There is more of a gap now between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem,” he says. “The Arabs who work in West Jerusalem will come under a lot of suspicion, and I can foresee how the response to their presence there will be more negative than ever. There’s no confidence in each other, no trust, and it’s leading us to a more serious conflict.”

The groundswell of terror has been exacerbated by the absence of Palestinian leaders in East Jerusalem, Al Qaq says. Although the 1993 Oslo Accords stipulated that East Jerusalemites could vote in elections for the Palestinian Authority, Israel later deemed PA offices or those connected to its ruling political party, the Fatah faction of the PLO, as an infringement on Israeli sovereignty in the city. Orient House, an East Jerusalem building that served as a PLO headquarters through the 1980s and 90s, was shuttered by Israel’s then-premier Ariel Sharon in 2001 following a suicide bombing which killed 15 people.

“We don’t have leaders we can call on in East Jerusalem to try to calm the situation down, and the leaders in Ramallah have no influence on the Palestinians in East Jerusalem,” Al Qaq says. “What we’re seeing is young people doing it themselves, and not taking orders from anyone.”

Officials in Jerusalem have cautioned Israelis to treat their Palestinian neighbors with suspicion. Maj.-Gen. (Ret.) Dan Ronen, the former head of Israeli Police Operations Division during the Second Intifada, suggested Tuesday that the best way to foil potential attacks was to be cautious of “Arab employees and other people who come from East Jerusalem,” adding, “You never know when and how they can do something.” He also suggested that Israel would train those citizens who are armed to be better equipped to use their weapons in an attack. Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, said Tuesday he was encouraging Jerusalemites to join a civilian guard, reviving volunteer patrol units that were important in the state’s early days.

Given this situation, its perhaps not surprising that Taha, a cab driver from East Jerusalem, has been avoiding West Jerusalem in the last few days. “We are afraid to send our kids to school tomorrow, because we hear that settlers want to do marches and revenge attacks. I’m 53 years old, it’s the first time I’m really worried,” said Taha, who asked that his name be withheld due to security concerns. “In the last week, four people got to my taxi and got out as soon as they saw my name is an Arab name. They say things like, oh, I think I made a mistake, this is not the taxi I ordered, and they jump out. When it happens I cannot talk, because I feel very sad.”

Sara Kalker, a mother of two young children, is also unsure of whether to take her kids to school on Wednesday. Their pre-schools are on the edge of the Armon Hanetsiv neighborhood, which is over the Green Line (Israel’s pre-1967 borders) and abuts the Palestinian neighborhood of Jabel Mukabar, where the two young Palestinian cousins responsible for Tuesday’s synagogue attack were from.

“Everyone is concerned that something could happen anywhere, but we really feel it here. There are border police all over our neighborhood now. It’s hard to concentrate at work,” says Kalker. She moved here from New York State, where she grew up, weeks before the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September 2000. “I got through that, but it’s definitely different being a mother and having to worry now about someone’s security other than my own.” She pauses. “I just want to feel safe. But I don’t really have faith in the ability of the country to solve these problems.”

TIME Middle East

Fears of Religious Conflict After Synagogue Killings

Israel Palestine Jerusalem Attack
Ultra-orthodox Jewish men look on at the scene of an attack on Israeli worshippers at a synagogue in the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighborhood in Jerusalem on Nov. 18, 2014. Jack Guez—AFP/Getty Images

The dead include three American citizens, one British citizen and one Israeli police officer

Two Palestinians from East Jerusalem burst into a West Jerusalem synagogue on Tuesday morning, killing five Israelis and wounding seven others with knives and axes in an attack that is being viewed by both sides as a potential turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That conflict, simmering since the end of a seven-week long war this summer between Israel and Islamist militants in Gaza, has reached boiling point in recent weeks. There have been a string of Palestinian stabbing attacks targeting Israelis so far this month, resulting in the deaths of four Israelis. Palestinians accuse Israel of ratcheting up tensions around Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, or Noble Sanctuary, an area sacred to both Jews and Muslims, and say the building of Israeli homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has provoked Palestinian ire.

But Tuesday’s attack in a crowded synagogue where worshippers has just begun their morning prayers is the most serious attack in recent weeks. Both Israelis and Palestinians noted the choice of target and the skyrocketing tensions over Jerusalem’s holy sites – the Temple Mount or Noble Sanctuary houses the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and has the Western Wall at its base. Many expressed concerns that this may be morphing into a religious war more than a struggle over land.

“We don’t want to see ourselves as Jews as being in a war with Islam – a religious war would be a disaster from every perspective,” said Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, in comments to reporters, broadcast live as the news was unfolding. “We have a long-standing dispute between Jews and Arabs, between Israelis and Palestinians, but we must not allow this to be twisted into a war between religions.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack but also demanded “an end to the ongoing incursions into the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the provocative acts by Israeli settlers as well as incitement by some Israeli ministers.” Rivlin applauded Abbas’ condemnation but said he was not doing enough, adding, “We’re hearing imams who are using every opportunity to incite against Israel.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had harsher criticism for the Palestinian leader, saying that the attack was a direct result of incitement by Hamas as well as by Abbas. Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman took it a step further and accused Abbas of deliberately trying to turn the conflict into a religious war between Muslims and Jews. Abbas recently characterized Jews as having desecrated the Temple Mount, which Lieberman said legitimizes attacks like the one on Tuesday.

Zakaria al-Qaq, a lecturer in national security at Al-Quds University which has campuses in Jerusalem and in the West Bank, said he was concerned that the atmosphere in the region – including the rise of the Islamic State in various enclaves in Iraq and Syria – was pushing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to take on a more religious hue.

“I’m afraid that today’s events will be a sort of turning point in terms of dragging the conflict towards having a different label on it, and it will look more like a religious conflict,” says Al-Qaq. Even though reports surfaced Tuesday that the attack may have been carried out by the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a secular nationalist group, al-Qaq said people were already drawing their conclusions about what this new stage of the conflict would look like. It would not necessarily be a third Intifada, or uprising, as some have predicted, but an unprecedented religious war.

“Regardless of whether the perpetrators are secular or religious, they have decided to use a place of prayer to inflame the religious identity of the conflict, moving it from Palestinian-Israeli to Muslim-Jewish,” Al-Qaq says. “If there will be any retaliation from any side, even just a radical group of Israelis who decide to attack a mosque that will inflame the situation very seriously. If you put it in the regional context, looking at Sunni vs. Shia tensions and the rise of ISIS, and just days ago in northern Israel, a riot pitting Muslims against Druze, we see that this is how the ball is rolling now – everything being dictated by religion.”

Receiving the first reports of the attack around 7 a.m., police rushed to the scene and shot dead the two Palestinians, who were from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber. Chaim Weingarten, a volunteer for ZAKA, an Israeli organization that arranges for religious burial following terrorist attacks, said he felt it as if “ISIS has arrived in Jerusalem.” He explained what he saw in comments provided to the media by ZAKA: “This was an extremely difficult scene. The terrorists used live fire and a butcher’s knife. The terrorists cut off the arm of a worshiper wearing tefillin (phylacteries). Horrific images that leave me with very difficult emotions.”

Israeli police said that three of the dead were originally from the U.S. and one was from Britain. An Israeli police officer died from his injuries hours after the attack, bringing the death toll to five, a spokeswoman at Hadassah hospital told CNN. Among the victims of the attack is an Israeli-American rabbi, Moshe Twersky, 59. He was the head an English-speaking seminary, or yeshiva, and is the son of a renowned rabbi and Harvard professor, Rabbi Yitzhak (Isadore) Twersky of Boston, and well as the grandson of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, one of the founders of Jewish Modern Orthodoxy.

Tuesday’s attack came after a Palestinian bus driver, Yusuf Hasan al-Ramuni, was found hanging in his bus on Sunday. Israeli forensic officials ruled it was a suicide and said there was no evidence of foul play, but Palestinians believe it was a murder staged to look like a suicide, and held protests on Monday in response.

Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, said in a BBC interview that attacks like Tuesday’s should be anticipated.

“Everyone expected that this would happen,” Hamad said. “Every day Jerusalem is boiling, every day there is a new crime against a Palestinian citizen. We didn’t see any effort of the Israeli government to stop the settlers from attacking the al-Aqsa mosque. They should open their eyes and see there is a revolution in Jerusalem, there is an uprising.”

In the aftermath of the killings, Israeli media reported clashes between Palestinian and police near the East Jerusalem homes of the two alleged attackers.

TIME Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Infant’s Killing in Jerusalem Reignites Talk of a New Intifada

Mideast Israel Palestinians
A masked Palestinian kicks a burning tire during clashes with Israeli security forces a day after 14-year-old Palestinian-American, Orwah Hammad was killed by Israeli troops during clashes, in the village of Silwad, near the West Bank city of Ramallah on Oct. 25, 2014. Majdi Mohammed—AP

Incidents of violence in the city and the West Bank increase tension between Israelis and Palestinians

Gill Schechter has lived in the Armon HaNatziv neighborhood of East Jerusalem for over 30 years, during which time he has always felt safe — until recently. His street abuts a Palestinian neighborhood, from which rocks and cement chunks have been lobbed at the Jewish homes and cars here with increased intensity.

He doesn’t remember ever before worrying, as he does now, about driving in and out of his neighborhood or letting his kids walk home from school.

“I don’t think it’s heading in the direction of an Intifada — I think it’s here already,” says Schechter, a 41-year-old Israeli electrical engineer and father of four, referring to the Arabic word for uprising “People don’t want to walk in the streets, people’s houses are being trashed and we see very little being done, as the police have their hands tied behind their backs.”

Tensions increased in the city, including in Schechter’s neighborhood, on Oct. 22 when a 21-year-old Palestinian resident of Jerusalem named Abdel-Rahman Shaloudi drove into a line of people waiting for a tram in the center of the city. Shaloudi’s car hit Haya Zissel Braun, a three-month-old Israeli baby, throwing her into the air. She landed on her head and later died. Police shot Shaloudi as he tried to flee the scene on foot. He later died of his wounds.

Schechter is a member of the security committee for Armon HaNatziv, which sits in the southern part of the city and borders two Arab villages that are part of Jerusalem — Jabel Mukaber and Sur Baher. Armon HaNatziv is over the Green Line, which marks Israel’s pre-1967 borders, and therefore is considered by Palestinians as an illegal settlement. Many Israelis consider Armon HaNatziv simply as a neighborhood of the capital.

“I’m not a war-monger, but there is a limit to what the authorities should allow when you’re in charge of a city,” Schechter tells TIME. “We have young guys across the road throwing huge chunks of concrete at us. Were it to hit someone in the head, it could easily kill a person.”

Across town, to the north, Saedi Shrateh is a 22-year-old construction worker and student at Al-Quds University in the West Bank city of Ramallah, north of Jerusalem. He lives near the Qalandia checkpoint, which separates Jerusalem from the southern outskirts of Ramallah. Although he has an Israeli-issued Jerusalem resident’s ID, which allows him to go anywhere in the city, he stays away from West Jerusalem more and more following a spate of attacks on Arabs by Israeli ultranationalists. Everyone, he says, tries to avoid walking alone.

“As witnessed in the past week or so, the vibe in the streets is for a third Intifada. But not all Palestinians are willing to participate,” says Shrateh, who wears a black T-shirt that reads “Gaza is under fire,” a reminder of the recent seven-week-long war between Israel and the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza. “I think we need another Intifada to achieve our goals, but I’m afraid too many people will sit at home. Nowadays, people are more concerned about making it in life and advancing their economic situation.”

There is almost no corner of this city that isn’t abuzz with talk of a third Intifada. (The first Palestinian uprising started in 1987, and the second in 2000.) Fears grew over the summer after the murder in June of a Palestinian youth named Mohammed Abu Khdeir. The teenager was abducted in Jerusalem and then murdered. Police have charged three Israelis with the murder, including two minors, saying the three were upset by the news that three Israeli teenagers had been kidnapped in the West Bank — Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah — and shot dead by Hamas operatives.

Although the clashes simmered down following an Israel-Hamas cease-fire in late August, the rage among many Palestinians has yet to abate. In recent weeks, several events seemed close to reigniting the conflict. One has been the arrival in Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood near the Old City of Jerusalem, of several dozen Jewish settlers who have moved into two buildings they had bought. Palestinians see these moves as a provocation. To them, any time a group of Israeli Jews moves into the neighborhood, it not only causes friction but potentially marks it is as territory Israel would retain control of in a peace deal. Israeli Jewish groups who move their activists to these neighborhoods say they’re reclaiming ancestral land and acknowledge that part of their goal is to prevent Jerusalem from being redivided, as it was between 1948 and 1967. The Jerusalem municipality says it cannot stop anyone from moving to another neighborhood of Jerusalem if the property is purchased legally.

Also in recent weeks, Jewish groups seeking to hold holiday prayers at the Temple Mount — known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, housing both the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock — have led to concerns that a dangerous showdown is brewing over Jerusalem’s holiest site. And each time things get tense Israeli police keep young Muslim worshippers out, only allowing access to people over 50. Earlier this week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told activists from his Fatah party that Palestinians should be present on the site at all times to stop “the fierce onslaught on Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre Church.”

When news broke Wednesday night that a Palestinian from Silwan had driven his car into pedestrians waiting for a tram, killing the three-month-old, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately blamed the attack on Abbas and said his “incitement” was responsible. In response, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Netanyahu’s accusations represented a “dangerous new low” in Israeli-Palestinians relations.

The two sides have only seemed to exacerbate tensions, likely setting the stage for more violence.

The tensions are not limited to Jerusalem, but are also spreading to the West Bank. During riots on Friday, Israeli forces shot and killed a 14-year-old Palestinian-American youth named Orwah Hammad. The shooting took place in the village of Silwad, north of Ramallah.

Government ministers in Netanyahu’s cabinet and Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, have argued for taking a tougher line in East Jerusalem, arguing that this is the only way to stop Palestinian rioters. Barkat also announced he was deploying more police throughout the city, installing cameras in neighborhoods like Schechter’s, and launching a surveillance balloon over East Jerusalem to collect information about riots as they are forming.

Schechter — and many others Israelis in Jerusalem — seemed pleased with the response. But Palestinians say it will only bring further trouble.

“I certainly don’t see this moving in the direction of calming down,” Adnan Husseini, who holds the Jerusalem portfolio for the Palestinian Authority, tells TIME. “The Israeli government is doing everything to accelerate tensions and make things more difficult. We have a confrontation in almost every area of Jerusalem, on every street. It may not have been announced, but is seems there is a small Intifada already.”

Read next: Palestinian Killed in Clash With Israeli Military

TIME Israel

Israel Grapples With British Vote to Recognize Palestine

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, Oct. 13, 2014.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, Oct. 13, 2014. Menahem Kahana—EPA

Some fear a domino effect while others hope it will aid the push for peace

Israel was bracing for a diplomatic tidal wave this week after lawmakers in the United Kingdom, one of the world’s friendliest countries to Israel, voted overwhelmingly in favor of a recognizing Palestine as a state on Monday. Israel is largely trying to weather the storm by downplaying it, emphasizing that the 274-to-12 vote doesn’t force any binding changes in British foreign policy and should not be treated as sea change in the conflict.

But coming on the heels of a decision by Sweden to recognize Palestine as a state, a move that was much easier for Jerusalem to dismiss as marginal or anti-Israeli in nature, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is looking increasingly likely to face a new and unprecedented wave of international pressure to move toward a two-state solution with the Palestinians. Although Netanyahu has voiced a theoretical endorsement of a negotiated settlement to the conflict that would lead to two states, his critics say he has consistently stalled progress in peace talks while continuing robust settlement growth in the West Bank.

Palestinians widely celebrated the vote in London, saying it was a move whose time had come – or was perhaps overdue: “Palestinians see this vote as the first step in righting the wrong of the Balfour Declaration,” Kamel Hawwash, a British-Palestinian academic, told TIME, referring to the 1917 decree in which Britain said it supported “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

Almost a century later, the Jewish people have had a state for 66 years. But Palestinian statelessness was put back into the international spotlight this summer during the devastating war between Israel and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, making it clear how untenable the status quo is.

Some Israelis view these moves in the U.K. and Sweden with great concern. While government officials have been measured in their remarks—so as not to blow wind into the sails of the “victory” the vote presents for Palestinian statehood, or to do damage to the friendly British-Israeli relationship—they have been vocal about their disappointment with the parliamentary move, saying it was not helpful to peace efforts.

“We have no question that the British people are interested in conflict resolution,” said Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry. “The undercurrent of this is saying, ‘we want to drive peace forward.’ We just think they’re not going about it the right way.

“This kind of step discourages Palestinians from coming back to the negotiating table in the first place, or getting them to compromise,” Hirschson added. “But this is only going to be resolved around the negotiating table.” Trying to force Palestinian statehood on Israel via international bodies, he said, will never bear fruit and only lead to frustration.

“The stated policy of the Israeli government is already in support of a Palestinian state,” Hirschson said. “So there’s no big deal here on substance, the question is process.”

But other Israelis said there is substance at stake. Although Netanyahu stated in a landmark 2009 speech that he supports a two-state solution to the conflict, his critics say he has done little to advance that agenda, and has been undermining it in day-to-day settlement growth and in severe criticism of his would-be peace partner, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

One of the leading voices among these critics is Dr. Alon Liel, the former Director General of Israeli foreign ministry and a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa. On the eve of the vote, Liel organized a public letter urging the British parliament to pass the motion, and had it signed by 363 former Israeli diplomats, government ministers and prominent peace advocates.

“What happened Monday in Cairo was the world pledged $5.4 billion for Gaza—after we physically destroyed the Gaza Strip. We also destroyed the peace process and without the outside world, it cannot recover,” Liel told TIME. “I see this decision by Sweden and Britain as a recovery process for the diplomatic chaos we’ve made. Israelis who have worked for two states side by side for many years, as I have, have to be part of this effort.”

Liel said he was surprised by how many prominent former Israeli officials who support a two-state solution were willing to sign the letter in the 24 hours during which he and other partners organized the campaign. And the Israeli embassy in London, in turn, was surprised to find that he was behind it.

“They sent me an email saying, ‘did you really sign this?’ I said I did. I think it’s good for Israel. They didn’t send a reply email,” Liel said. He blamed both Israeli and Palestinians leaders for making the grim atmosphere seem that much more hopeless during their speeches at the U.N. last month—Abbas accused Israel of genocide, and a week later Netanyahu said Abbas collaborates with ISIS-style terrorists in Hamas by allowing them in his unity government. And Liel said only an outside push will lodge the parties from their stalemate.

“It’s not as if we can say, ‘OK, let’s have the status quo for 10 or even two years and then come back to it later,’” Liel said. “Even after another two years of what’s happening on the ground in terms of settlement expansion, we will lose the opportunity for a two-state solution. Many people like me feel the change must come, if not from within, from without.”

Read next: U.K. Parliament Votes to Recognize Palestinian State

TIME Iraq

What the ISIS Flag Says About the Militant Group

The black and white standard of the Sunni militants gives some insight into how the group sees itself

The world is now becoming accustomed to seeing images of the stark black-and-white flag whose bearers are threatening to remake the Middle East and who have already taken responsibility for numerous acts of murder, massacres and ethnic cleansing across Iraq and Syria.

But what does the standard of the self-declared Islamic State–also known by its previous name, ISIS, or the Islamic State in Iraq and greater Syria–tell observers about the goals of the organization and its supporters?

Volumes, say experts in Islamic militant movements. The color, the calligraphy, and the choice of words on the flag all serve as a key to reading the group’s history as well as unfolding a road map of where it sees itself going.

The flag is black with the words La ‘ilaha ‘illa-llah – “There is no God but God” – emblazoned across the top in white in a somewhat coarse, handwritten Arabic script. It’s a very different kind of typeface from the more elaborate calligraphy on the Saudi flag, for example, that also includes this same shahada, or Islamic statement of faith. Even more rough around the edges is the white circle in the middle of the ISIS flag. Inside it are three words: “God Messenger Mohammed.” It’s an interesting choice of word order given that the second part of the shahada is “and Mohammed is God’s messenger.”

The reason for the circle and those words is that they’re a copy of what’s known as the Seal of Mohammed, which the prophet himself is believed to have used in his lifetime to seal letters he wrote to foreign leaders, asking them to join him. A version of the seal purported to belong to Othman, one of Mohammed’s companions, is now permanently on display at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. The use of the seal, critics of ISIS say, is intended to add a veneer of historical authenticity to its mission.

“The power of the flag comes from the fact that the word ‘Allah’ is on it. The word itself is seen as sacred by Muslims and hence it becomes sacrilegious to desecrate the flag,” explains Hayder al Khoei, an associate fellow of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House in London. A week ago, for example, there were protests in Beirut at which ISIS flags were burned, with activist starting a #BurnISIS campaign meant to rival the ALS ice bucket challenge. Afterwards, the Lebanese Minister of Justice, Ashraf Rifi, asked that the burning of the flag be banned and that violators be given the “sternest punishment,” because burning anything with the word Allah on it is viewed as an insult to Islam. The issue has stirred up emotions across the Islamic world. An Egyptian feminist, Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, recently held an extremely graphic protest intended to desecrate the ISIS flag, stirring up further controversy.

“The words are what makes the flag so powerful,” al Khoei says. “It is a very weird and awkward situation for Muslims because ISIS is an evil terrorist organization with an actual holy flag.”

The black and white flag’s meaning is further complicated by the fact that ISIS did not create the image it bears. Rather, it appropriated the flag from other jihad-oriented groups, says Magnus Ranstorp, an expert on Islamic fundamentalist movements and the Research Director of the Centre for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defense College. Al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (active in Yemen and Saudi Arabia), and the al-Shabab group in Somalia have all used the same flag, he says.

“The most important thing is the color. This raya, the solid blank flag, was the Prophet Mohammed’s war banner,” he explains. “This flag compresses time and space – it harks back to where they came from and where they are going. It is not just the color of jihad and of the caliphate, but it represents the coming of what some believers see as the final battle and the day of resurrection.” In other words, he explains, there’s a kind of Islamic end-of-days element in the flag, pitting the forces of Islam against the Christian West.

To some Muslims, the choice of flag is worrying because of the symbolic weight of its absence of color. A look at other Islamists militant movements in the region makes them seem almost tame by comparison; Hamas’ flag is green, Hizbollah’s yellow. But like the flags of other jihadist groups the al-Nusra Front and Hizb ut-Tahrir—which also seeks a worldwide caliphate to replace nation-states laid out by Western powers nearly a century 100 years ago—the ISIS flag is set in stark, featureless black.

“The flag represents a lot things outside observers don’t realize, but people in the Middle East understand the importance of colors,” says Ranstorp. “The point of the war banner is showing the will to destroy the world order. If one understood that properly, you could use that to detect who is really involved.” For example, he says, the law enforcement and intelligence communities could be savvier about detecting who among youth in Westerns countries is being drawn to the ideology and might end up getting lured to fight for ISIS abroad.

“There is a meaning to these symbols, that could be utilized, but we haven’t really. In many places they are selling rings with the same Seal of Mohammed. You’ll find it on many Islamic State social media sites. This symbol tells us where they have come from, the sacredness of their mission and what they want – a caliphate.”

 

TIME Israel

Israelis and Palestinians Ask if the Latest Fight Was Worth It

Palestinian men walk in a street of Gaza City's Shejaiya neighborhood in early morning dense fog among the ruins of their neighbourhood on Aug. 27, 2014.
Palestinian men walk among the ruins of Gaza City's Shejaiya neighborhood on Aug. 27, 2014 Roberto Schmidt—AFP/Getty Images

A bloody war is followed by a public-relations fight

Israeli and Palestinian leaders set out Wednesday to sell their constituents on what was achieved during the latest fighting between the two sides, a day into a cease-fire that ended 50 days of war.

Senior officials on both sides of the conflict declared victory, albeit in very different ways, and laid out the war’s purported achievements. But some found themselves questioning what was really accomplished — and at what price.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced severe criticism from both ends of the political spectrum — from left-wingers who think the war could have been avoided had he not squandered a recent round of peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and from right-wingers who say he didn’t go far enough in the latest Gaza war. Netanyahu resisted hawkish calls to have the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) attempt an overthrow of Hamas and a reoccupation of the Gaza, and he shelved his insistence on the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, which he had been promoting last month as a solution to the conflict.

Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s own Foreign Minister and among the most prominent critics in his cabinet, slammed the cease-fire deal.

“We object to the cease-fire which offers Hamas the ability to continue to grow strong and fight future battles with Israel whenever it feels like,” Lieberman wrote on Facebook.

Unlike other key national decisions, Netanyahu did not bring the cease-fire deal to his cabinet for a discussion or a vote. After coming under fire for not addressing the nation Tuesday evening when the cease-fire deal was signed, Netanyahu held a news conference Wednesday alongside his Defense Minister and the IDF Chief of Staff, aimed at touting what he said was a mission accomplished, one that will provide “a lasting quiet” for Israel.

“Hamas did not get one of its demands to end Operation Protective Edge,” Netanyahu said, using the name of the Israeli military operation. “It demanded a seaport, it didn’t get it. It demanded an airport, it didn’t get it. It wanted mediation from Qatar and Turkey, it didn’t get it.”

He listed other Palestinian demands — the release of prisoners, the opening of Hamas offices in the West Bank that Israel closed, money — and boasted that Israel refused all of these. Rather, he said, what Israel essentially agreed to was the rehabilitation of Gaza by allowing humanitarian goods to enter.

A thousand Hamas terrorists were killed, many of them commanders,” he said. “Thousands of rocket arsenals, launch sites and weapons caches were destroyed along with hundreds of command centers.”

Those figures highlight the disparity in Palestinian and Israeli casualties and even how each side measures them: while Palestinians say that at least 70% of the approximately 2,100 Palestinians killed were civilians, Israel says about 50% were Hamas fighters. Seventy Israelis were killed, 64 of them soldiers.

While Israelis debated the war’s outcome and whether it was worth it — more than half say there was no winner, according to a new poll — the mood was more jubilant and less analytical in Gaza City. Palestinians went out to shop, to the bank, to the beach, and in many cases, to see if their homes were still standing. “People are happy that they survived more than anything else,” said Gazan journalist Abeer Ayyoub. “I’m just glad to be alive and that my house wasn’t demolished.”

Hamas rallied its supporters Wednesday afternoon, and many top officials not seen during the past seven weeks of war emerged to speak. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the blood spilled in the war was “the fuel of this victory.” Wearing a black-and-white kaffiyeh-patterned scarf over his business suit, he counted Hamas’ gains. “This battle is a war that lacks a precedent in the history of conflict with the enemy,” he said, adding that the group was preparing for the “ultimate battle” for Palestinian liberation.

“The war began with fire on Haifa and ended with fire on Haifa,” Haniyeh said, referring to the longer-range rockets Hamas used to target one of the main cities along Israel’s northern coast.

Mkhaimar Abusada, a political analyst at al-Azhar University in Gaza, said many Palestinians view Hamas as victorious simply because of its resilience and its survival.

“If you look at the numbers, we had about 30 times the number of Palestinians killed as in Israel … From this point of view, we didn’t win,” Abusada tells TIME. “But the Palestinians look at it from a different perspective. With limited capability, the Palestinian resistance was able to withstand the Israeli aggression and continue to fight to the last minute. Let’s face it, Israel didn’t reach its goals, because Israel could not stop the launching of missiles, and I’m not really sure they succeeded in deterring the Palestinians.”

TIME Middle East

Israel and Palestinians Reach Open-Ended Cease-Fire Deal

The sign of victory as people gather in the streets to celebrate after a deal had been reached between Hamas and Israel over a long-term end to seven weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip on Aug. 26, 2014 in Gaza City.
Palestinians in Gaza City celebrate in the streets after a deal had been reached between Hamas and Israel over a long-term end to seven weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip on Aug. 26, 2014 Momen Faiz—NurPhoto/Corbis

Truce ends the seven-week war, but it's an open question whether longer-term political talks will resume

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced Tuesday that Israel and various Palestinian militant factions including Hamas and Islamic Jihad had reached a cease-fire deal to end seven weeks of devastating war, and to postpone negotiations over several remaining issues for one month.

The news follows weeks of intense efforts on the part of the Egyptian government to broker a truce between the sides, both of whom were keen to emerge looking victorious, or at least successful, from a bruising war that resulted in the death of nearly 2,200 Palestinians and 70 Israelis.

Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev told the BBC that the cease-fire would meet Israel’s primary goals of keeping its citizens safe. The deal, he said, “commits Hamas to ending all hostile activity against Israel from Gaza. Now if that in fact does happen, and we hope it does, that is, for us, victory.”

Abbas’ role in announcing the deal from his Ramallah headquarters in the West Bank was evidence of the more prominent role that Egyptian, Israeli and other officials have sought in Gaza for the Palestinian President, whose Fatah party and security forces were ousted from the coastal strip in a Hamas coup in 2007.

In an evening speech making the deal official, Abbas said that he would soon present a detailed plan aimed at establishing a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines, a reference to Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories Israel occupied in the Six-Day War. He also indicated that he would not return to another round of negotiations with Israel amid what seems like such a discouraging prognosis for progress; the last round of talks ended in failure in April.

“The question now is, What’s next?” Abbas said. “Gaza suffered three wars and are we expecting another one? We will consult friends and the international community, and we can’t continue with cloudy negotiations.”

What’s in the Deal
The deal calls for an “open-ended” cease-fire and an Israeli agreement to ease its strict closure policy on Gaza, which Palestinians consider a siege. In theory, this means Israel should ease access at five crossings into Gaza that it controls, opening them up for a better flow of commercial goods and humanitarian needs, and most importantly, for building materials at the Kerem Shalom Crossing.

This latter aspect, according to a Palestinian source close to Hamas, has held up a deal in recent weeks as Hamas thought it necessary to hold out for the free flow of materials such as cement and steel as part of the reconstruction of Gaza. Also included in the deal is an Israeli agreement to allow Gazan fisherman to fish in waters up to 12 nautical miles off the coast by the end of the year — more than doubling the distance they were able to travel offshore in recent years, leading to overfishing.

What Hamas did not get, but had demanded throughout the past month, are three other things that the sides have agreed to postpone discussing for one month. These include the creation of a Gaza seaport, an airport and the release of approximately 50 Hamas activists who were rearrested by Israel in June. After having let them go in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange in October 2011, Israeli forces arrested them in West Bank raids following the kidnap-murder of three Israeli teenagers in mid-June. A senior Hamas official last week took responsibility for that attack.

Also postponed for a month is the demand by Hamas for Egypt to open the border crossing at Rafah. Egypt said it would work that out in a separate, bilateral agreement, with sources suggesting that that Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi wanted to take a wait-and-see approach before agreeing to ease Egypt’s own closure of the Hamas-run territory. Abbas’ Palestinian Authority forces are expected to take over responsibility for administering Gaza’s borders from Hamas, Reuters reports.

The agreement seems to lack exact details as to what precisely it would mean for Israel to “ease” its blockade of Gaza, leaving room for disagreements as in past years. Moreover, the deal largely mirrored the November 2012 cease-fire agreement that ended a week of war known as Operation Pillar of Defense. Exactly how “open-ended” this cease-fire ends up being thus remains to be seen.

Hamas Declares Victory
Hamas proclaimed itself victorious on Tuesday night, as details of the deal leaked out. Gazans gathered in several places throughout the strip and shot celebratory gunfire into the air.

“We are here today to declare the victory of the resistance, the victory of Gaza, with the help of God, and the steadfastness of our people and the noble resistance,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said at a news conference at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital.

The deal fulfilled what the Palestinian group had hoped for during the weeks of negotiations, said Gershon Baskin, an Israeli academic who has acted as a go-between Israel and Hamas on several occasions, including in the lead-up to the Shalit prisoner exchange deal almost three years ago. “Hamas has been ready for an agreement for two weeks, and has made it clear its achievements would not be military but political. What was important to them was to get building materials into Gaza,” he said.

Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior member of the Hamas political wing who has not been seen in public in some time, was one of several top Hamas officials to speak to the crowd of thousands gathered in Gaza City’s Rimal neighborhood Tuesday.

“We’re going to build our port and our airport, and if they attack the port, they attack the port. But anyone who attacks the airport will have their airport attacked again,” al-Zahar said, according to an Agence France-Presse report, in a reference to the numerous rockets launched at Israel’s Ben Gurion International airport. Though none of these succeeded, a Hamas rocket that targeted a town near the airstrip caused the Federal Aviation Administration to suspend the landing of several U.S. airlines there for several days in July.

Netanyahu Faces Hard Sell
Israel seems less in the mood for celebrating. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who informed his cabinet of the cease-fire deal Tuesday evening, has a more complicated job of selling the war’s achievements to Israelis. While the vast majority of Israelis believed he was justified in going to war, according to polls, not all of them are ready to end Operation Protective Edge with Hamas seemingly undeterred — and many are fearful that a cease-fire is simply a time-out until the next round. Whereas 82% of Israelis supported Netanyahu in mid-July, when he first sent in ground troops, a new poll showed his approval rating sunk to 32%.

Three of Netanyahu’s most prominent right-wing coalition partners — Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Minister of Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovich — announced their opposition to the cease-fire deal. The heads of local councils in southern Israel also announced Tuesday night that they flatly rejected the cease-fire agreement.

Itamar Shimoni, the mayor of Ashkelon, one of the cities hardest hit by the rocket fire, called the deal a “surrender to terrorism” and added: “We wanted to see Hamas defeated and begging for its life, but instead we’re seeing Israel running to the negotiation table every opportunity that presents itself.”

The upper echelons of Netanyahu’s team and senior Israel Defense Forces officials, however, will present it much differently. “The Israeli spin will be that Hamas shot most of their rockets and that won’t easily be replenished, and that most of the tunnels were destroyed and can’t be rebuilt,” Baskin tells TIME. “The big question is whether the regional political process will restart, as it should.”

TIME Israel

Hopes for a Cease-Fire Rise as the Gaza War Drags On

A Palestinian walks on the rubble of a mosque that was partially damaged by an airstrike on Aug. 25, 2014 in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip.
A Palestinian walks on the rubble of a mosque that was partially damaged by an air strike in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip, on Aug. 25, 2014 Roberto Schmidt—AFP/Getty Images

The Gaza war has reached its eighth week, and people on both sides keep dying. But there are reports of a potential truce

Israeli and Palestinian media outlets were abuzz with reports Monday that the various factions involved in the Israel-Hamas conflict were close to agreeing on a cease-fire deal following renewed efforts by Egypt and Saudi Arabia to help negotiate a truce. Either way, the possibility of reaching a cease-fire with a longer shelf life seemed to increase the likelihood of the sides reaching a cease-fire that would also be the prelude to a return to peace talks.

Khaled al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad official attending the Cairo talks, was the source of reports that on the possible cease-fire. But a senior Hamas official, Izzat al-Rishq, said the sides had yet to agree on a cease-fire in Gaza, according to Israeli daily Haaretz, while another Lebanon-based Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, would only confirm in a Hamas radio interview that “efforts are under way to stop the Israeli aggression.” Late Sunday, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling on Israel and Palestinian factions to agree to a cease-fire without a time limit attached and to return to the peace negotiations.

A senior Israeli official reached by TIME says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office is declining to comment on the rumors of a possible cease-fire and suggests “exercising caution” in giving credence to the reports. A report on Israel’s Walla! news site suggested that Egypt would make an announcement on a deal late Monday, one that would include a reopening the Rafah crossing between southern Gaza and Egypt and the expansion of Gaza’s fishing zone to 12 nautical miles, two of Hamas’ demands. If the cease-fire is maintained, the report says, Israel will allow more commercial products into Gaza, including construction materials.

Still, Israel and Hamas have very different visions about how the conflict should end — which makes it challenging to reach an agreement satisfactory to all sides. “The dilemma is that Israel is not willing to talk before reaching a cease-fire, while there is still shooting going on, and the Palestinian factions insist that they want achievements in exchange for agreeing to a cease-fire,” says Ghassan Khatib, a veteran Palestinian political analyst and the vice president of Birzeit University in the West Bank.

Adding intrigue about what the week may hold, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview Saturday with the Egypt’s Sada El Balad station that in the coming days he would introduce his own plan for solving the greater Israel-Palestine conflict. Many analysts here have speculated that this will likely be built on the Arab Peace Initiative — also called the Saudi Peace Initiative — first put forward in 2002. In the plan, moderate Arab states would recognize Israel in return for Israel recognizing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Any such plan would, naturally, including a program for rebuilding Gaza, but Israel is concerned that materials like cement and steel will be used refresh Hamas’ military capabilities — including the tunnels that became the focus of the Israel Defense Forces’ recent Gaza invasion.

Abbas said he would be discussing the initiative this week with other top Palestinian officials in Ramallah. “It will be an unconventional solution, but I’m not going to declare war on Israel,” Abbas said in the interview. “I have diplomatic and political solutions.” He suggested that he doesn’t expect Washington to support his initiative but added that “in the end, our Arab brothers will go with us.”

Khatib believes that Abbas’s statement indicates that Saudi involvement would play a key role in a peace deal. “Saudi and international parties are trying to bridge the gap by giving guarantees, meaning that they would set up a mechanism by which a third-party will guarantee freedom of movement to and from Gaza, but check that this cannot be used for the rearming of Gaza.” Egypt, he says, would like to play this role — or at least a pivotal one. The three key European players — France, Germany and Britain — all are offering assistance as well. The three countries are reportedly working on a proposal for a U.N. resolution to end the fighting, according to a report leaked to Haaretz, as part of a plan to return Gaza to Palestinian Authority control under international supervision — the territory has been run by Hamas since June 2007 — end the Israeli embargo on Gaza and resume peace talks.

The alternative, it seems, is continued war. Each side has made it clear other over the past week than they are ready to keep fighting indefinitely. With the conflict between Israel and Hamas already dragging on far longer than expected — it is now heading into its eighth week — politicians on both sides in the conflict have begun to refer to the possibility of war of attrition. That’s a reference to the ongoing fighting following the 1967 Six-Day War, one that continued for another three years, pitting Israel against Egyptian, Jordanian, Palestinian and even Soviet forces. Netanyahu and his Defense Minister told Israelis on Aug. 24 to expect a protracted war and “if necessary,” a delay of the start of the school year next week, at least for schools that are in the line of fire from Gaza.

In the meantime, both sides have continued their attacks. Israel has carried out 70 air strikes in the Gaza Strip over the past two days, the IDF said in its Twitter feed, while over the same period Israel was targeted by more than 230 rockets and mortars from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant factions in Gaza. On Sunday a 4-year-old Israeli boy was laid to rest after he was killed in a mortar attack from Gaza on Friday, triggering an exodus of Israelis from communities near the Gaza border, which are not protected by the country’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. The boy’s death brought the number of Israelis killed in the ongoing war to 68, including 64 soldiers. That same day a Palestinian mother and her four children were killed in an Israeli air strike on Gaza. At least 2,120 Gazans have been killed in the conflict, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Barring a lasting cease-fire, both numbers will keep rising.

TIME Middle East

Israel-Gaza Talks Collapse as Fighting Resumes Where It Left Off

Destruction is seen from the bathroom of a Palestinian apartment in the northern Gaza Strip city of Beit Hanun, on August 18, 2014.
Destruction is seen from the bathroom of a Palestinian apartment in the northern Gaza Strip city of Beit Hanun, on August 18, 2014. Thomas Coex—AFP/Getty Images

Renewed rocket fire from the Gaza strip was met with Israeli airstrikes Tuesday, as Egypt negotiations were called off

Hostilities between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza resumed and peace negotiations in Cairo were called off Tuesday, with Israeli negotiators called home to Jerusalem hours before an already prolonged cease-fire was due to expire.

Militants in Gaza launched three rockets in the direction of the Israeli city of Beersheba at close to 4 p.m. local time on Tuesday afternoon, Israel Defense Forces reported. They fell in open areas and no one was injured. But the very fact of even a trio of rockets being launched tested the doctrine that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials had reiterated in recent days: that Israel would not negotiate under fire, and would not accept even a “drizzle” of rocket fire from Hamas and its allies in Gaza.

“If Hamas thinks that through the continued drizzle of rocket fire it will force us to make concessions, it’s mistaken,” Netanyahu warned on Sunday. The metaphor of this drizzle – or tif-toof as it’s referred to in Hebrew – has become the new catch-phrase being used in Israel to embody a zero-tolerance policy to rockets. Tens of thousands of Israelis, including residents of the southern parts of Israel who have often been subjected to rocket fire even when there isn’t a full-scale conflict going on, protested in Tel Aviv last Thursday night, demanding a more definitive solution to the problem.

Netanyahu’s right-wing Minister of Economy, Naftali Bennett, said after the renewed fire Tuesday that it was impossible to negotiate with Hamas. “When you hold negotiations with a terror organization, you get more terror,” he said. “Hamas thinks that firing rockets helps in securing achievement in negotiations, therefore it is firing at Israel even during a cease-fire. Rockets are not a mistake [for Hamas], they are a method.”

A Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, accused Israel of dragging out the talks and of not being serious about reaching an agreement. “Israel’s foot-dragging proves it has no will to reach a truce deal,” Abu Zuhri said. “The Palestinian factions are ready to all possibilities,” he added, presaging the likelihood of a return to further conflict.

He also said that he had “no information about rocket fire coming from Gaza,” making it unclear as to which group actually launched the rockets. There are smaller militant groups than Hamas operating in Gaza; the largest of them, Islamic Jihad, has a delegation attending the talks in Cairo.

The return to hostilities is hardly the outcome everyone was waiting for as negotiators neared the end of their deadline for reaching a deal to bring a brutal and bloody summer of fighting to an end. Only a day earlier, the Israeli and Palestinian delegations meeting in Cairo were reported to be very close to reaching an agreement, as the nearly week-long ceasefire was extended for another 24 hours.

However, there were still large gaps on key issues. Hamas has demanded a complete lifting of the closure on the Gaza Strip, as well as permission to build an international seaport in Gaza. Israel has said it will not allow Hamas to use looser restrictions to rearm or to rebuild tunnels into Israel.

After the three initial rockets, further rocket salvoes on southern Israel were reported Tuesday afternoon. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an IDF Spokesperson said that the IDF “will continue striking terror infrastructure, pursuing terrorists, and eliminating terror capabilities in the Gaza Strip, in order to restore security for the State of Israel.”

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser