Posted on July 07, 2014 in Washington Watch

Reactions to the horrific back-to-back kidnappings and murders of three young Israelis and a Palestinian teen have made clear several disturbing realities that must not be ignored.

First is the total lack of trust and empathy that defines the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. This is, of course, an old story. It was the central observation of our recent study of the changes in the public opinion of both societies over the past two decades. This break-down in trust was in evidence in the stories believed by some Palestinians that the kidnappings were but an Israeli concoction designed to give them a free hand to destroy Hamas and Palestinian reconciliation. More disturbing has been the story spread by some Israeli media hinting that Muhammad Abu Khdeir might have been the victim of an "honor killing" committed by his relatives. That such tales can be told and, even worse, find receptive audiences is troubling.

There is also an empathy gap and it was on display in the inability of either side to express or even feel compassion for the losses experienced by the other. There were a few heartfelt statements of sorrow, the most poignant of which came from the parents of the murdered Israeli and Palestinian teens, both maintaining that no parent should have to endure the pain they had experienced.  

This lack of trust and compassion not only defines the attitudes of both publics, it also describes the behavior of their leaderships. Other than Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, few officials on either side condemned the killings and expressed condolences to the other side.

Too many Israeli and Palestinian leaders fell in line with the angry and distrustful mood of their vengeful publics. Some Israeli Ministers issued calls to "wipe out Hamas" and retake Gaza and "clean it out for good." For their part, Hamas leaders steadfastly refused to condemn the kidnappings while their official spokesman callously said that he would "bless the hands" of those who seized the three Israeli teenagers. Some Palestinian Authority officials attempted to distance themselves from their President, suggesting that kidnapping may be the only way to secure freedom for Palestinian prisoners.

This souring of the mood in both societies is, as I have noted, an old story born of a conflict that has witnessed one people, with a long history of victimization, dispossessing and victimizing another people. The violence that ensued during the last century deepened each party's fear of and anger toward the other.

What was remarkable about the period immediately following the 1993 Oslo Accord was the optimism and openness demonstrated by both Israelis and Palestinians, leaders and publics.