Steven A. Cook writes that the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank may again resort to violence, in the form of a third Intifada, to shore up its political fortunes, drained by its internecine struggle with Hamas in the Gaza Strip as well as the Palestinian Authority's own poor choices (and, Cook argues, the Obama administration's missteps). It's the harshest of realities, Cook says, that "[t]hroughout contemporary Palestinian history, spilling Israeli blood has often been the best way for competing political factions to burnish their nationalist credentials."
Palestinians aren't the first to grasp for political legitimacy by stigmatizing or attacking an enemy, and they won't be last. All that makes the Middle East unique is the close quarters of the potential combatants as well as each side's arguable theological, historic, and moral claims on the territory.
The tension between Beijing and Taipei, equally fraught with potential violence, is far simpler to understand, since the dispute only goes back to Chiang Kai-shek vs. Mao Zedong in 1948 instead of Abraham and the Canaanites in 2000 B.C. Yet in the Taiwan Strait just as in the Middle East, both sides have a responsibility to keep in mind the other side's psychological and political situation when making their moves. Responsible Taiwan leaders, no matter what their deepest hopes may be, always think about the perils of sounding too militant about independence and provoking the mainland. By the same token, Israel knew that by stiffing the U.S. and the Palestinians on West Bank settlements, they would empower extremists. Palestinians and their supporters in Arab capitals knew that when they demanded progress on settlements as a condition for restarting talks or offering the confidence-building measures Israel demanded, they were making it easier for Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to be intransigent.
By making Middle East peace a top, early priority, the Obama administration, no matter how inept some of its moves may have been, offered those who wanted peace the opportunity to make historic progress. If we have a third Intifada, both sides bear responsibility for the failure. Violence against Israel is never justifiable. But Israel could forestall it if it really wanted to. Cook writes persuasively about how violence serves craven political interests on the Palestinian side. What about those Israeli politicians who also seem to prefer confrontation to peace?