By Erica Chenoweth and Laura Dugan
We recently published an article in the American Sociological Review in which we argue that Israeli conciliatory actions like negotiations, improving living conditions, and other concessions have been more effective than repression actions — arrests, killings, and curfews — in reducing Palestinian terrorist attacks. View the press release here, and view the study here.
But if negotiation and concessions can reduce terrorism, then why doesn’t the Israeli government do these things more often? We suggest three plausible explanations, although there may be more.
- Politics. Israeli leaders may view dovish policies toward Palestinians as too politically risky. Even if there is high voter enthusiasm for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, unilateral Israeli concessions are extremely controversial. A politician embracing such policies may pay for this position at the polls or, in some cases, with his life. With Israel’s changing demography, politics may play an even more important role today than it did twenty years ago.
- Genuine fear of backfire. Although our study shows otherwise, a dominant narrative in Israel is that making concessions to Palestinians is ineffective. For instance, after Israel and the PLO negotiated the Oslo Accords, various Palestinian groups responded with a wave of terror throughout the 1990s, culminating in the highly traumatic Second Intifada. It is easy to see such events as representative, but they are not. In fact, we find that conciliatory actions actually had the strongest violence-reducing effects during the Second Intifada, whereas Israel’s militaristic retaliation only exacerbated terrorist violence.
- Insincerity about the peace process. The current Israeli ruling elite may simply be unwilling to pay the price for peace, which would a genuine two-state solution. We have our doubts that Netanyahu is serious about the peace process. Instead, he seems content to kick the can down the road, calculating that settlements will continue to expand, Palestinians will remain despairing but only moderately active, and “facts on the ground” will eventually come to favor Israel. On the contrary, our research shows that this course of action does little to make Israelis safer.