TIME Israel

See the Aftermath of the Tel Aviv Bus Stabbing

Three Israelis were in serious condition Wednesday after a 23-year-old Palestinian man from the West bank attacked bus passengers with a knife. Police are calling it a terrorist attack

TIME Israel

Palestinian Stabs Passengers on Bus in Israel

Israeli police crime scene investigators work at the scene of a stabbing attack in Tel Aviv, Jan. 21, 2015.
Israeli police crime scene investigators work at the scene of a stabbing attack in Tel Aviv, Jan. 21, 2015. Nir Elias—Reuters

Nine Israelis stabbed on a bus in central Tel Aviv

(JERUSALEM, Israel) — A Palestinian man stabbed 11 people on and near a bus in central Tel Aviv on Wednesday, seriously wounding three of them before he was shot and arrested by Israeli police.

Police described the assault as a “terrorist attack,” and the Islamic militant group Hamas praised it. It appeared to be the latest in a series of “lone-wolf” attacks in which Palestinians have killed and wounded Israelis using knives, acid and vehicles, citing tensions surrounding a disputed Jerusalem holy site.

The man, who was riding the bus with the other passengers, began stabbing people, including the driver, then managed to get out of the bus and run away from the scene, stabbing a woman in the back on his way.

Officers from a prison service, who happened to be nearby, saw the bus swerving out of control and a man running away. They gave chase, shot the man in the leg, wounding him lightly, and arrested him.

“He had murder in his eyes,” a bus passenger who gave her name as Orly, told Israel Radio.

Eleven people were stabbed and three remain in critical condition, according to Lee Gat, a spokeswoman at Tel Hashomer hospital, and a statement from the Ichilov hospital. Police earlier said nine people had been stabbed, citing initial numbers giving by paramedics at the scene.

Video aired by Israel’s Channel 10 TV showed the attacker running in the street and stabbing a woman in the back as he tried to escape. Police confirmed that the attacker stabbed a woman as he attempted to flee.

Police identified the assailant as 23-year-old West Bank resident Hamza Mohammed Matroukh, a Palestinian who had entered Israel illegally.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Matroukh was in custody and undergoing questioning. Police said he confessed to the stabbing, saying he carried it out in response to last year’s Gaza war and tensions surrounding a Jerusalem site holy to Jews and Muslims.

The stabbing appeared to be the latest in a series of attacks in recent months carried out by individual Palestinians with no known ties to armed groups, which have killed about a dozen people, including five killed when two men attacked a Jerusalem synagogue with guns and meat cleavers. Police say the attacks are almost impossible to prevent.

The violence comes weeks ahead of March elections, in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a security hawk, is facing a challenge from a joint list headed by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, who support negotiations with the Palestinians. The violence could sway votes in Netanyahu’s favor.

At the scene of the attack, a Jewish head covering lay beside headphones on the floor of the bus, with blood splattered nearby. Police sealed the central intersection where the attack occurred, which is typically clogged with cars, as paramedics tended to the wounded.

Herzl Biton, the bus driver, was stabbed in the upper body and liver and was in surgery, his niece Cheli Shushan said. She said he had tried to fight back and sprayed the attacker with pepper spray.

Biton called his friend, Kazis Matzliach, as the attack was unfolding, describing the mayhem. Matzliach said he could hear the sounds of screaming while his friend was talking, telling him if “something happens to me, please take care of my children.”

Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, did not claim responsibility but praised Wednesday’s attack as “brave and heroic” in a tweet by Izzat Risheq, a Hamas leader residing in Qatar.

The stabbing is a “natural response to the occupation and its terrorist crimes against our people,” Risheq said.

Israeli officials say the attacks stem from incitement by the Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders.

“The terrorist attack in Tel Aviv is the direct result of the poisonous incitement being disseminated by the Palestinian Authority against the Jews and their state,” Netanyahu said Wednesday. “This same terrorism is trying to attack us in Paris, Brussels and everywhere.”

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, condemned the violence but said it came as a result of the Israeli occupation.

“You cannot have a violent military occupation with full impunity and then expect all its victims to be calm and quiet,” she said.

Most of the recent violence has occurred in Jerusalem, though there have been other attacks in Tel Aviv and the West Bank.

In Jerusalem, the violence came after months of tensions between Jews and Palestinians in east Jerusalem — the section of the city the Palestinians demand as their future capital. The area saw a wave of violence last summer, capped by a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.

Much of the recent unrest has stemmed from tensions surrounding a key holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City. It is the holiest site for Jews, who call it the Temple Mount because of the revered Jewish Temples that stood there in biblical times. Muslims refer to it as the Noble Sanctuary, and it is their third holiest site, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

TIME Israel

Escape to Israel Is Not Always an Easy Answer For French Jews

Life goes on at this Jewish bakery in the Marais, a traditionally Jewish quarter in Paris, France, Jan. 11, 2015.
Life goes on at this Jewish bakery in the Marais, a traditionally Jewish quarter in Paris, France, Jan. 11, 2015. Julien Pebrel—MYOP for TIME

Some return home after finding it difficult to adapt to life in Israel

A few months ago, Pnina and Raphael Kaufmann decided enough was enough. Their six-year experiment of life in Israel was at an end. They decided to move to Strasbourg, a French city near the German border. Though it’s where Raphael Kaufmann grew up, moving back to France wasn’t what they’d expected when they moved to Israel in 2008.

At the time, Kaufmann and his wife Pnina, both lawyers, saw a disturbing rise of anti-Semitism in France and thought that Israel would be a far better place to raise their growing family.

The jobs they had found had little security and were paid far less than they were paid in France. Raphael found a new position in France last year and started commuting twice a month, meaning he was away from his family at least half the time. It was especially hard on their four children.

“There are many French Jews who emigrate to Israel, and afterwards many of them go back, because it’s too hard to make a living in Israel,” says Pnina Benjamin Kaufmann, who, along with her husband, found it difficult to requalify as a lawyer in Israel. “There are tons of people who have university degrees and professions and they find it’s impossible to work in the field, or the pay for other jobs is just too low.”

Theirs is a real but less celebrated side of the story of Jews leaving France for Israel, a trend that is predicted by the Jewish Agency, the organisation that encourages migration to Israel, to increase following the killing of four French Jews in an attack at a Paris supermarket last Friday. In 2014, 7,000 French émigrés arrived in Israel, twice the number from the year before. Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky estimates French immigration will more than double this year to 15,000. The Israeli government doesn’t keep track, however, of how many new immigrants ultimately leave. And while Israel gives a wide-ranging benefits package to its newcomers to enable an easy landing in the country, for some people it’s not enough.

“When you hear Sharansky come out and say they’ll get 100,000 French Jews coming to Israel,” or close to a fifth of the Jews living in France overall, “I say, but then what? How are they going to integrate all of those people?” Benjamin Kaufmann asks. “They need to improve the way they recognize foreign diplomas and open up the job market properly.”

Mickael Bensadoun agrees that new arrivals need support. He left France for Israel in 2001 and for the past eight years he’s been the CEO of an organization called Gvahim, which helps ease the transition of young and well-educated French immigrants into the Israeli labor market by finding them internships and job placements. It’s challenging enough for Israelis to find good jobs, he notes, and most immigrants have the additional handicap of not having native-level Hebrew. What’s more, the cultural gap means the French “don’t interview well,” he says.

“The number-one problem is employment. You interview very differently in France than in Israel,” Bensadoun tells TIME. “In French culture, you’re very modest about saying you’re good at something, but in Israel it’s different, you talk yourself up and you need to sell yourself very aggressively.” Israeli employers, meanwhile, often look at a resume and see names of schools in France they don’t recognize, and end up undervaluing the level of education the newcomers arrive with, or won’t recognize their qualifications in heavily regulated professions.

With the French economy in a slump in the last few years, there has been an additional lure for French Jews to come to Israel. The economy in Israel is growing but the country has rather low wages compared to other OECD countries, putting Israel on a par with countries such as Spain, Slovenia, and Greece. Throw in the high cost of living and exorbitant real estate prices, and many find it difficult to survive. Exasperation with these trends led to a massive social protest across Israel in 2011 that resulted in few noticeable reforms. In recent months, there has been much controversy over Israelis moving abroad — to Berlin in particular — after having grown exasperated with the Israeli economic situation.

“A very important element is that for young people it is almost impossible to buy apartments unless you have very well-to-do parents. The housing in Berlin is much cheaper,” says Uri Avinery, a peace activist and former politician who regularly comments on the plight of new immigrants. Avinery says that he sees the impact of the situation when he asks after his friends’ children, and finds many of them are in Europe or the U.S.

“There’s a big outcry for the French to come here, but there is no affordable housing and there are no jobs,” he tells TIME. “It’s a gut reaction to call on them to come, but this gut reaction does not translate into initiatives, and many of them will find it impossible to stay.”

Joel Bloch, a hi-tech entrepreneur who came to Israel in 2006 and opened his fifth start-up about two years ago, says that many French immigrants like him are staying tied, professionally and economically, to France. Bloch’s company Tag’by is based in Tel Aviv but most of its business in France. That means that he flies to France at least once a month, sometimes twice.

“When you keep your business in France completely, and your personal life is here, that makes it difficult to integrate. It makes for a kind of schizophrenia,” says Bloch.

Besides the economic struggle, of course, there is the challenge of living in a place with a perennially unsolved conflict, and wars that seem to erupt nearly every two years. “When we had the war here this summer, all our family back in France was afraid for us,” says Bloch, “but right now we’re afraid for them.”

TIME U.K.

Majority of British Jews Polled Feel They Have No Long-Term Future in Europe

Jewish men talk in Golders Green, London, Jan. 10, 2015.
Jewish men talk in Golders Green, London, Jan. 10, 2015. Paul Hackett—Reuters

A poll has found that more than half of British Jews feel anti-Semitism is on the rise

A survey of Jewish people in the U.K. has found that a quarter have considered leaving the country within the last two years and more than half feel they have no long-term future in Europe.

The poll, which was carried out by YouGov for the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), asked 2,230 British Jewish people their thoughts on the country’s attitudes toward Jewish people. More than half of the Jewish Brits polled said they felt that “anti-Semitism now echoes the 1930s” and “that they have witnessed more anti-Semitism in the past two years than they have witnessed ever before.”

The poll also asked 3,411 British adults whether or not they agreed with certain antisemitic stereotypes — such as “Jews chase money more than other British people” — and found that such beliefs are widely prevalent with 45 percent of Britons polled agreeing with at least one anti-Semitic sentiment.(A quarter of those polled agreed with the statement about money.)

Gideon Falter, the chairman of the CAA, said in a foreword to the report, “Britain is at a tipping point: unless anti-Semitism is met with zero tolerance, it will continue to grow and British Jews may increasingly question their place in their own country.”

TIME France

Masses Mourn Paris Terror Victims in France and Israel

These photographs are Tuesday's funeral services for both police officers and civilians killed in last week's terror attacks in Paris

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 13

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The U.S. could improve its counterinsurgency strategy by gathering better public opinion data from people in conflict zones.

By Andrew Shaver and Yang-Yang Zhou in the Washington Post

2. The drought-stricken western U.S. can learn from Israel’s water management software which pores over tons of data to detect or prevent leaks.

By Amanda Little in Bloomberg Businessweek

3. Beyond “Teach for Mexico:” To upgrade Latin America’s outdated public education systems, leaders must fight institutional inequality.

By Whitney Eulich and Ruxandra Guidi in the Christian Science Monitor

4. Investment recommendations for retirees are often based on savings levels achieved by only a small fraction of families. Here’s better advice.

By Luke Delorme in the Daily Economy

5. Lessons from the Swiss: We should start making people pay for the trash they throw away.

By Sabine Oishi in the Baltimore Sun

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Israel

Bodies of Jewish Victims of Paris Terror Attack Arrive in Israel

Tributes And Reaction To Paris Terror Attacks After Gunmen Kill 17 People
A general view outside the Jewish supermarket Hyper Cacher as Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, pays his respect to the victims following the recent terrorist attacks on January 12, 2015 in Paris, France. Aurelien Meunier—Getty Images

Their funeral will be attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other dignitaries

The bodies of the four Jewish victims of last week’s terror attacks in France arrived in Israel on Tuesday, three days after they were killed in a standoff involving militant gunmen at a kosher supermarket in Paris.

The funeral for the four men — Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, Francois-Michel Saada and Phillipe Braham — will be attended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several other prominent individuals, the Associated Press reports.

A total of 17 people died over three days last week, when gunmen claiming allegiance to Jihadist group Al-Qaeda opened fire at the Paris headquarters of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Twelve people died in the initial attack, while the remaining victims — including the four laid to rest in Israel — were killed during the ensuing operation to apprehend the perpetrators.

[AP]

TIME France

Kosher Grocery Assault Confirms Worst Fears of French Jews

A screengrab taken from an AFP TV video shows a general view of members of the French police special forces launching the assault at a kosher grocery store in Porte de Vincennes, eastern Paris, on Jan. 9, 2015.-ATTACKS-CHARLIE-HEBDO-SHOOTING
A screengrab taken from an AFP TV video shows a general view of members of the French police special forces launching the assault at a kosher grocery store in Porte de Vincennes, eastern Paris, on Jan. 9, 2015. Gabrielle Chatelain—AFP/Getty Images

Jewish community in Paris had already been on high alert

The worst fears of France’s already tense Jewish community came to be on Friday when an assailant believed to have killed a policewoman the day before took hostages at a Kosher supermarket in eastern Paris.

The suspect was killed when police stormed the market and several hostages were reportedly freed, but the fate of others remains unclear. Prime Minister Manuel Valls told reporters earlier that the suspect, believed to be Amedy Coulibaly, 32, had ties to the gunmen in the terror strike on Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, who were killed in a separate police operation on Thursday.

The assault on the Kosher supermarket shook the Jewish community in France and abroad. As dual hostage situations unfolded, police ordered the closure of all shops in the tourist-filled Jewish neighborhood in central Paris, far from the supermarket under siege in the city’s east, according to the Associated Press. And ahead of the Sabbath Friday evening, the iconic Grand Synagogue of Paris was closed, USA Today reported.

The Jewish community in France, numbering more than 400,000, had already been on guard after an uptick in anti-Semitic violence in recent years, including the shooting of four people at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in May 2014, allegedly by a French Muslim man. After the attack on Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, Jewish institutions were on maximum alert, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported. Volunteers joined police deployed by the French authorities to secure schools and religious sites.

“We are past red alert at this stage, it’s all hands on deck because, sadly, the question is not whether the French Jewish community will be targeted, but when,” Chlomik Zenouda, vice-president of the National Bureau for Vigilance against anti-Semitism, told JTA before the assault on the supermarket.

When an attack materialized, on the Kosher supermarket in the Porte de Vincennes, condemnation of the assault and expressions of support flowed in from the Jewish community around the world. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin tweeted in solidarity:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered assistance to French authorities and convened a teleconference with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his security staff, according to the Jerusalem Post.

“The terror attack that has gone on for three days now is not just against the French nation, or against the Jews of France, but is aimed at the entire free world,” Lieberman said, the Jerusalem Post reported. “This is another attempt by the forces of darkness emanating from extreme Islam to sow fear and terror against the West, and the entire international community must stand like a wall and with determination against this terrorism.”

In a statement, the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League “expressed deep concern” over the attack. “Islamic extremism is a common enemy of Jews and democratic states. That message needs to be heard and internalized by governments and mainstream society,” the ADL said.

Read next: Watch Parisians Vow To Stand Strong Against Terror Threat

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Middle East

The Path to Peace

vanAgtmael_11.JPG
A Palestinian man prays in a Gaza neighborhood destroyed during the war last year between Hamas and Israel Peter van Agtmael—Magnum Photos

Chaos in the Middle East is sowing the seeds for an unlikely alliance between Israel and the Arab states

On May 26, 2014, an unprecedented public conversation took place in Brussels. Two former high-ranking spymasters of Israel and Saudi Arabia–Amos Yadlin and Prince Turki al-Faisal–sat together for more than an hour, talking regional politics in a conversation moderated by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius. They disagreed on some things, like the exact nature of an Israel-Palestine peace settlement, and agreed on others: the severity of the Iranian nuclear threat, the need to support the new military government in Egypt, the demand for concerted international action in Syria. The most striking statement came from Prince Turki. He said the Arabs had “crossed the Rubicon” and “don’t want to fight Israel anymore.”

The Turki-Yadlin dialogue was not “official,” but it sent a clear message. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah had personally approved the meeting, intending it as an olive branch to the Israelis. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to reciprocate–at least not openly. It was too dangerous politically. Crucial components of Netanyahu’s coalition, especially his supporters among right-wing Jewish settlers in the West Bank, oppose any deal with Palestinians.

And yet, in the months after he decided against a public gesture to the Saudis, Netanyahu was suggesting at private meals with editors and influential figures at the U.N. General Assembly meetings last September that an alliance with the Arabs was not only possible but perhaps the best way to resolve the Palestinian problem.

Other odd things have been happening recently in the gridlocked Middle East. On New Year’s Day, Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi made an interesting speech, challenging Islamic radicalism and calling for a Muslim reformation. “It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred,” he said, “should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!” The sentiments were not unexpected, since al-Sisi had come to power by overthrowing the country’s democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood leaders in 2013. (Al-Sisi won a largely uncontested presidential election last year.) But these are not sentiments that have often been uttered publicly by Arab leaders before.

And then, the very next day, the Times of Israel reported that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and exiled Palestinian leader Mohammed Dahlan had met privately in Paris. Dahlan has made no secret of his desire to replace Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas; Lieberman is a conservative who has fallen out with Netanyahu and wants to be part of a coalition to replace him. So what on earth were Dahlan and Lieberman talking about?

All of this may add up to nothing. But there seems to be a growing impatience with the perpetual status quo in the region. There is a new generation of leaders pushing for power in Israel and Palestine. There are dangerous new threats like ISIS. There is concern about the U.S.–the possibility of a nuclear deal with Iran, the waning need for Middle East oil. There is the memory of the Arab Spring, which ultimately produced chaos instead of democracy.

The established powers in the region, like Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have found in recent years that they have increasingly aligned foreign policy interests. The Israelis and Saudis have been sharing intelligence for the past few years, according to regional sources. The Israelis and Egyptians are cooperating on security efforts in Sinai and in Gaza, where Hamas–the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood–is a common enemy. There are private talks going on between Israeli and Saudi Arabian officials. “It might be called mushroom diplomacy,” an Israeli told me. “It can only grow in the dark.”

Most Israeli and Arab officials I spoke with during a December tour of the region acknowledge the mushrooms and hope that the burgeoning relationships–especially the acceptance of Israel as a de facto ally–can be brought to light in time. There are, of course, all the usual roadblocks, including the eternal one: nothing can happen publicly without an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. The Saudis and the Arab League promised to recognize Israel in 2002 if such a deal were made, but the Arab terms–a return to 1967 borders, with Palestinians’ right of return to their former lands in Israel–were unacceptable to the Israelis. Now those terms may be changing. Prince Turki described the proposal as a “framework,” which implies room to maneuver.

Is it possible that the Middle East has become so unstable that an Arab-Israeli peace is no longer unthinkable?

The ISIS Effect

As 2015 begins, the Middle East seems to be a greater mess than it ever was–especially when it comes to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The deterioration began with Israel’s 50-day war in Gaza last summer, which increased the popularity of Hamas in the West Bank and has led Abbas to take a series of steps toward the unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. In recent weeks, the Palestinian Authority applied for membership in the International Criminal Court–a red flag to the Israelis because the Palestinians would presumably use membership to bring war-crimes charges against Israel. In return, the Israelis have cut off the monthly payment of taxes they collect for the PA, which represent almost 80% of the government’s $160 million monthly budget. It is possible that the Palestinians could retaliate by suspending government operations in the West Bank–schools, health care and, especially, security. Chaos would be the likely result.

In the rest of the region, the sectarian split between Sunni and Shi’ite has become more dangerous, even as it has become more confusing. The Sunni Arab nations–which include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states–have worried for a decade that the U.S. demolition of Saddam Hussein’s ugly but stable dictatorship in Iraq has created a power vacuum in a broad swath of the region that the Iranians are exploiting. They call it the “Shi’ite crescent,” a sphere of influence stretching from Hizballah-controlled southern Lebanon and President Bashar Assad’s Alawite regime in Syria, to Iraq and Iran, right up to the border of the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia, a majority-Shi’ite area where most of the country’s oil is produced.

But the old Sunni-Shi’ite conflict has been complicated by a new threat in the region: ISIS, a Sunni radical military force vastly more competent and frightening than al-Qaeda. ISIS began in Iraq but made its mark in the rebellion against Assad’s government in Syria. Assad isn’t well liked by his Sunni neighbors–and some of them, like Qatar and perhaps private sources in Saudi Arabia, gave surreptitious support to ISIS and other Sunni militias in the early days of the rebellion.

The lightning march ISIS made through Iraq last year changed the equation. An ISIS-controlled Iraq would be a threat not only to Iran but also to some of the Sunni royal families in the region, as well as Egypt. The Jordanians–already overwhelmed by refugees from Iraq, Syria and Palestine–are vulnerable. The Saudis, governed by an increasingly feeble gerontocracy–the 90-year-old Abdullah was hospitalized with pneumonia at the start of the new year–are worried too. The Egyptians are fighting ISIS-style terrorists in Sinai and are threatened by Libyan militias, which may also be loosely affiliated with ISIS.

In response, a heterodox alliance has gathered to make war with ISIS. Iranian-backed militias, like Hizballah, are the most ardent fighters in this war, along with the Kurds. But they are now joined by U.S. airpower–as well as pilots from Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Another potentially major change in the region: the Israelis, Iranians, Saudis and Egyptians are increasingly concerned about Turkey, which sees the ISIS threat somewhat differently from its neighbors. Turkey has allegedly allowed thousands of militants to cross its border and join ISIS because the group is fighting Assad and militant Kurdish groups like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the Turks see as a permanent threat in the south and east of their country. (Turkey has acknowledged that its border with Syria is porous but has denied accusations that it purposefully allows militants to cross.) “Why aren’t you Americans making more of a fuss about Turkey’s support for ISIS?” a prominent Egyptian official asked me. “I read a lot more about our humanitarian problems in the American press than I do about the Turks who are allowing terrorists to cross their border and behead Americans.”

Of course, the “humanitarian problems” in Egypt are very real, as al-Sisi’s forces have led a brutal suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood. But the Egyptians have become sensitive to the point of paranoia about the changing U.S. role in the region. I had dinner in Cairo with a group of prominent leaders. One of them, a banker, asked seriously, “Is it true that there is a secret alliance between Obama and the Muslim Brotherhood to destabilize the existing Sunni governments in the region?”

I started to laugh, but none of the Egyptians at the table were smiling. They didn’t buy the banker’s conspiracy theory, but they laid out an array of charges, ranging from the (pre-Obama) Iraq invasion to the President’s support for the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak to the Administration’s recent slow walk of military supplies, especially spare parts, to the al-Sisi government. “Doesn’t he want us to be fighting ISIS in Sinai?” asked the banker.

The Obama Administration maintains that all al-Sisi has to do is free some political prisoners–especially those who are American and three jailed journalists from al-Jazeera who were accused, implausibly, of joining a terrorist group and broadcasting “false news”–and the military support will flow again. The Administration argues that its overall policy–steering clear of neocolonial adventurism like the 2003 invasion of Iraq and working to bring Iran back into the international community–has been more effective than George W. Bush’s neoconservatism. Obama aides also point out that there are two U.S. naval fleets in the region, plus U.S. bases in Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Djibouti. “Does that sound like disengagement?” one of them asked me. “We’re not going anywhere.”

From Washington, the region seems a jigsaw puzzle ruled by anarchic moving pieces–a disproportionate source of concern that leaches attention from growing problems in Russia and East Asia. From Cairo and Riyadh and Jerusalem, though, the U.S. seems a fickle ally that can’t decide whether its policy is to support stability or the naive hope for democracy in a region that isn’t ready for it.

The modern Middle East was stabilized, in a toxic but effective way, by the Cold War, when partnership with superpowers provided security and economic aid. In the 21st century, the USSR is gone and the U.S. no longer has the incentive, or the money, to lavish vast aid packages on local clients. But the nations of the Middle East have been unable to wean themselves from their dependency on outside forces. “Whenever we’re in trouble we dial 911,” an Arab diplomat told me. “But it is illogical to think the U.S. was created to protect the Sunnis.”

With few other options, the Arabs have returned to an old idea, which was mostly bluster in the past–that they must unite to protect themselves. And any serious conversation about security and economic development has to include the one nation in the region that has succeeded at both: Israel. There is no love for the Israelis, but there is respect. And so there is a hope–a conversation that is occurring across the Arab states–that perhaps the only alternative is to bank on the regional forces of stability to create a security alliance against the extremist threat of both Shi’ite and Sunni militias. Even if that means partnering with Israel.

Strange Bedfellows

Is such an alliance even vaguely possible? History says no, vehemently. But in the days before Netanyahu’s government collapsed in December, Israeli intelligence sources–usually the most skeptical people in the country–were allowing tiny shreds of hope to creep into their calculations. The common security interests with the Arabs were compelling, several of them told me, and might lead to new arrangements in the region. It was not impossible that the Arabs could help broker a peace deal with the Palestinians. The Egyptians could help provide security; the Saudis and Gulf states could provide funds for Palestinian economic development.

For that to happen, though, Israel would need to make changes of its own. “These governments can’t be seen to be cooperating with Israel as long as there isn’t a deal with the Palestinians,” said one intelligence expert, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “ISIS can turn the Arab street, especially their young people, against them. It’s bad enough that [the U.S.] is dropping bombs on Sunnis in Iraq and Syria. That strengthens [ISIS] on the street as well.”

At the heart of this conundrum stands Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli Prime Minister may have been selling an alliance with the Arabs in New York, but he’s been selling intransigence back home. That includes a new law that would make Israel a “Jewish” state–with the implication of second-class citizenship for its 1.7 million Arab citizens. His insistence on pushing that law resulted in the collapse of his government, as moderate parties led by Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid refused to support the legislation.

Netanyahu is no longer very popular in Israel, but no one is betting against him in the March election. Given his political skills, the absence of a charismatic mainstream challenger and the steady tattoo of terrorist incidents–stabbings, shootings, cars running over pedestrians–most observers assume that Netanyahu will prevail somehow, though he might even struggle to maintain control of his Likud Party. The rising tide seems to be with the settler-movement leader Naftali Bennett, whose party might well outpoll Likud in March. It is also possible that the moderate-liberal coalition of the Labor Party and the splinter party of Livni’s supporters will challenge Likud for first place in the March election and the right to attempt to form a government of its own.

The real negotiations begin after the election. Netanyahu will try again to cobble together a centrist coalition. The big question is whether he will have to include Bennett in a government; if so, there will be no hope of Israel’s negotiating a deal with the Palestinians–and no hope of closer public ties with its Sunni Arab neighbors.

But there are other possibilities as well. If Labor-Livni polls strongly and is joined by Lapid’s centrist party, they may find a partner in Avigdor Lieberman. The Foreign Minister and leader of the Israel Beitenu party ran a crass, anti-Arab campaign last time. “But Lieberman plays a different game inside the government than he does outside,” says Shai Feldman, director of Brandeis University’s Crown Center for Middle East Studies. “As Foreign Minister, he’s had to deal with the leaders of other countries. He’s more of a realist now.” But he’s also less of a political force, as recent polls show support for his party waning dramatically because of renewed corruption charges against Lieberman. “It is absolutely impossible to predict how this election is going to turn out,” Feldman says.

The New Generation

Netanyahu has been at the center of Israeli politics for nearly 25 years. Abbas has been a force in Palestinian politics even longer. But a new generation of leaders is rising, which is why the Lieberman-Dahlan meeting in Paris was noteworthy, at the very least. One thing the two men have in common, despite their wildly divergent politics, is that both believe the Netanyahu-Abbas era is coming to a close.

Dahlan is perhaps the most skilled of the next generation of Palestinian leaders, although he developed a well-deserved reputation as a thug when he led the Palestinian security services in Gaza. He is a young-looking 53, a protégé of Yasser Arafat’s and a native Gazan. He’s also the sworn enemy of Abbas, who accused Dahlan of corruption and convicted him in a show trial; Dahlan has been living in Abu Dhabi since 2011. He has already announced that he will run for President of the PA against Abbas–who is supremely unpopular–should Abbas ever call the Palestinian election that has been long delayed. But Dahlan’s strategy is more expansive than a one-on-one fight with Abbas. His hope is to create a new coalition that would appeal to people across the Palestinian political spectrum, from Hamas to Fatah.

How could he manage that? By forming an alliance with a Palestinian leader currently sitting in an Israeli prison. Marwan Barghouti, 55, is considered a folk hero by both Hamas and Fatah. He was a prominent leader of the first and second intifadehs before he was arrested by the Israelis in 2002 and sentenced to five continuous life terms for murder. Barghouti’s wife has already announced her support for a movement to draft him for President. Dahlan’s vision is that Barghouti would be the titular head of the PA from inside prison and Dahlan himself would be the hands-on guy, running the show from Ramallah, while former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, widely considered Palestine’s most effective bureaucrat, would administer the West Bank.

Netanyahu has long lamented the fact that he doesn’t have a “strong” partner on the Palestinian side. Abbas has never had the support among his people to cut a deal, and his predecessor Arafat had little desire to do so. But a government led by Barghouti or Dahlan could hardly be considered weak, and a Barghouti-Dahlan coalition would be formidable. The question of what to do with Barghouti–whether to release him or not–has been discussed by Netanyahu’s inner circle. At this point, Barghouti’s political views are a mystery; he has been described as “Mandela-esque” and utterly unrepentant.

Dahlan has been meeting with Arab leaders across the region. He is close to Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and also to Egypt’s al-Sisi. His aspirations parallel Netanyahu’s: that the Arab states could be brought into the talks as intermediaries. Dahlan hopes the Arabs will nudge the Israelis to make concessions; Netanyahu hopes that the Arabs will nudge the Palestinians to make concessions. But the bottom line is the same: visions of commercial cooperation that transforms ports in Gaza and Haifa into Middle Eastern Singapores; visions of a security alliance strong enough to fend off Islamic radicalism, both Shi’ite and Sunni.

The only thing preventing all this is what usually gets in the way in the Middle East–reality. Here is what might also happen in 2015: Israel might elect a right-wing government that wants nothing to do with the Arabs. The West Bank may fall into chaos as the PA struggles without the funds necessary to keep its security forces in operation. The U.S. might make a nuclear deal with Iran, with unforeseen consequences for the region. The U.S. might not make a nuclear deal with Iran, with unforeseen consequences for the region. King Abdullah might pass away in Saudi Arabia. The moderate Jordanian government might be overwhelmed by the tide of Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. Bashar Assad might fall, or survive, with consequences for the Kurds, the Turks and the Lebanese. Libyan militias might find common cause with ISIS. The rickety new government in Iraq might collapse.

Any of these events is more likely to occur than a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians, brokered by the Arabs. But the fact that the conversation is taking place–between Prince Turki and Amos Yadlin, between Mohammed Dahlan and Avigdor Lieberman, secretly at the U.N. and in capitals across the region–means that peace, the most unlikely Middle East result, is no longer off the table.

TIME Middle East

U.N. Chief Says Palestinians Will Join International Court on April 1

Joining the ICC is part of a broader Palestinian strategy to pressure Israel into withdrawing from the territories and agreeing to Palestinian statehood

(UNITED NATIONS) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said late Tuesday that the state of Palestine will join the International Criminal Court on April 1, a high-stakes move that will enable the Palestinians to pursue war-crimes charges against Israel.

The Palestinians submitted the documents ratifying the Rome Statute that established the court last Friday, the last formal step to accepting the jurisdiction of the world’s permanent war crimes tribunal. The U.N. said the secretary-general would review the paperwork.

In a statement posted on the U.N.’s treaty website, the secretary-general announced his acceptance of the documents saying “the statute will enter into force for the State of Palestine on April 1, 2015″ in accordance with the court’s procedures. He said he was “acting in his capacity as depositary” for the documents of ratification.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed documents to join the ICC a day after the U.N. Security Council rejected a resolution on Dec. 30 that would have set a three-year deadline for the establishment of a Palestinian state on lands occupied by Israel.

Joining the ICC is part of a broader Palestinian strategy to pressure Israel into withdrawing from the territories and agreeing to Palestinian statehood. Abbas has been under heavy domestic pressure to take stronger action against Israel after a 50-day war between the Jewish state and militants in Gaza over the summer, tensions over holy sites in Jerusalem, and the failure of the last round of U.S.-led peace talks.

The Palestinian decision to join the ICC has already sparked retaliation from Israel which froze the transfer of more than $100 million in tax funds collected for the Palestinians on Saturday. It promised tougher action on Sunday.

The United States also opposed the move, calling it an obstacle to reaching a permanent peace agreementl that would give the Palestinians an independent state. The Obama administration said Monday it was reviewing its annual $440 million aid package to the Palestinians because of the decision to join the ICC.

While Palestinian membership in the ICC doesn’t automatically incur U.S. punishment, any Palestinian case against Israel at the court would trigger an immediate cutoff of U.S. financial support under American law.

Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour said last week that the Palestinians are seeking to raise alleged crimes committed by Israel, including during last summer’s war in Gaza. He said the Palestinians will also seek justice for Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory, which he said constitute “a war crime” under the Rome statute.

The ICC said the Palestinians submitted a document to the court’s registrar, Herman von Hebel, in The Hague, Netherlands on Jan. 1 stating that Palestine accepts the jurisdiction of the ICC starting June 13 — about a month before the Gaza war started.

The International Criminal Court was created to prosecute individual perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Palestine will become the 123rd member.

But in Monday’s press release, the court stressed that accepting the jurisdiction of the ICC “does not automatically trigger an investigation.” ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda must determine whether the criteria under the statute for opening an investigation have been met, it said.

The secretary-general also approved Palestinian documents joining 16 other international treaties, conventions and agreements on Tuesday night.

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