JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stepped up his rhetorical campaign to convince the world that the surge in Palestinian violence here is not born of frustration against Israel’s decades-long military occupation but instead is the work of radical Islam.
In a series of speeches and public pronouncements since the Paris attacks last month, Netanyahu has been urging the United States and the international community to view the latest wave of daily Palestinian knife, gun and vehicular attacks against Jewish Israelis as a part of a globalized assault by extremist Muslims against Western democracies.
“The terrorists are attacking in California or in Israel, or for that matter in Paris. They are attacking the very values that we hold dear — freedom, tolerance, diversity,” Netanyahu said Sunday.
Netanyahu is pressing his case that Israel, Europe and the United States face a common enemy — and in doing so he is trying to blur the lines between Palestinians wielding knives and Islamic State militants carrying assault rifles.
“We are standing on the front lines against terrorism that is increasingly being transformed from Palestinian nationalistic terrorism to Islamic terrorism,” Netanyahu said immediately after the Paris attacks that killed at least 130. “An attack on any one of us should be seen as an attack on all of us. You can’t say these are the good terrorists and these are the bad terrorists. All terrorists are bad.”
The Israeli leader also compared the Palestinian attackers to the couple who killed 14 people last week at an office holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif.
Palestinians dismiss the assertion that attacks occurring in Israel and the West Bank have something to do with Islamist extremism or the Islamic State.
The Palestinian leadership says that Netanyahu is trying to confuse Israelis and the international community about the roots of Palestinian anger. The cause is the frustration with life under occupation, Palestinian leaders say.
“The stabbings are unorganized. They come from hopelessness, from rage,” said Mustafa Barghouti, leader of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political movement.
Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian leader, said Netanyahu “is cynically exploiting the pain of the innocent victims” of terrorism in Paris “in order to create a misleading linkage and to justify Israeli state terror against the Palestinian people, while presenting Israel as the victim.”
In more than two months of attacks, Palestinians have killed 19 Israelis. At least 109 Palestinians have been fatally shot, including 73 who Israel says were assailants; the remainder were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces.
Human rights groups charge that the Israeli authorities are using excessive force, that more assailants could be arrested instead of being shot dead at the scene of their attacks, and that some Palestinians have been killed in error or in cold blood.
The Israeli government has charged that Palestinian Authority officials are encouraging attacks or are doing little to prevent them.
Netanyahu’s military and domestic intelligence officials say radical Islam does not appear to be driving the attacks — although rancor over a site holy to Jews and Muslims alike in Jerusalem is stoking violence.
The domestic intelligence agency, Shin Bet, concluded last month that the attacks are being committed by “lone wolf” assailants driven by incitement on social media and that the violence is not directed by any militant faction or political organization but instead appears to be “spontaneous, popular” acts.
“For some terrorists, attacks allow an escape from a bleak reality that they perceive as unchangeable,” Shin Bet said.
There is, however, support for the Islamic State among Palestinians, according to opinion surveys.
Shin Bet also reports that a few hundred Arab Israelis actively support the Islamic State, that 32 have gone to wage jihad in Syria and Iraq and that seven were killed in the conflict in Syria, according to the Israeli news website Ynet.
In a videotaped address to a U.S. audience at the Brookings Institution in Washington on Sunday, Netanyahu argued that the source of popular Palestinian violence has little or nothing to do with the growth of Jewish settlements in the West Bank or the 48-year Israeli occupation.
Netanyahu asserted that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not at the center of Middle East strife.
“That was never true, but it’s now demonstrably false,” Netanyahu said.
“People have long said that the core of this conflict is the acquisition of territories by Israel in the 1967 war. That’s an issue that needs to be addressed in any peace process, as is the question of settlements, but it’s not the core of the conflict,” Netanyahu told the Brookings conference.
A day earlier, Secretary of State John F. Kerry told the same audience that Israel was drifting dangerously away from a two-state solution that seeks the creation of an independent, demilitarized Palestinian nation. Members of Netanyahu’s coalition government are opposed to trading land for peace and giving the Palestinians a state; instead they want Israel to annex the 60 percent of the West Bank where Israel has full control.
Kerry blamed both sides for the stalemate and warned that the continued occupation endangers Israel’s status as both Jewish and democratic.
“The status quo is simply not sustainable, and the fact of the matter is that current trends, including violence, settlement activity, demolitions [of the homes of Palestinians implicated in attacks], are imperiling the viability of a two-state solution,” Kerry said. “And that trend has to be reversed to prevent this untenable one-state reality from taking hold.”
Netanyahu dismissed the focus on the Palestinian conflict as “childish and irrelevant.”
Last month, President Obama conceded that there would not be a peace deal — or even U.S-brokered negotiations — between Palestinians and Israelis during the remainder of his term.
Yossi Beilin, former deputy foreign minister and minister of justice in Israel, said Netanyahu’s attempt to link the Palestinians to Islamic terrorism is wrongheaded and creates barriers to a solution.
“He makes it into a war of cultures — that it is not settlements or borders, none of that is important, it is a cultural war, it is bigger than Israel, so why does everyone keep demanding that Israel do something to solve the problem? That is what he believes,” Beilin said.
Kobi Michael, former head of the Palestinian desk at Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, said: “Netanyahu knows it is not the same. He knows there are many differences between ISIS and the terrorism Israel faces, but there are some links. There is the inspiration and the culture, which is a culture of death, a culture of rejecting the West and what the West represents.”
He said the Israeli prime minister was not trying to deceive.
“When Netanyahu has to speak to the international community and explain what is happening in Israel, he cannot go into details, into the complexities; he has to explain the threat Israel faces by comparing it to ISIS, which has become a significant and essential threat to the international community,” Michael said.
Ruth Eglash contributed to this report.