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Tensions rise in the wake of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Let's head overseas now. The recent violence that's rocked Israel and the West Bank raises the question of whether the new Israeli government is able - or even willing - to calm things down. As NPR's Peter Kenyon reports, there is also a loss of faith in the Palestinian leadership's ability to step up as anger builds on both sides.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The current violence is being described as the first big test for the leadership of Israel's still relatively new far-right coalition government. And as far as the right-wing base that elected them is concerned, in order to pass the test, what's needed are more tough measures, including military operations. Some of the comments have been brutally direct.

ALMOG COHEN: (Through interpreter) Keep killing the terrorists. What? The more terrorist blood, the better. I really like that. Am I supposed to suffer over this?

KENYON: That's Israeli lawmaker Almog Cohen, a member of a far-right political party, speaking to Israel's Army Radio. Cohen is not part of Israel's security cabinet, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not used such incendiary language himself. But Cohen's comment reflects the pressure the government is feeling from the right. Netanyahu is currently pushing a package of new security measures, including the power to take away Israeli ID cards from family members of those who commit attacks. I put the question to analyst Reuven Hazan, professor of political science at Hebrew University. Can this government end the violence? He says his answer might surprise some, but he wonders if this government really wants to end it.

REUVEN HAZAN: Yes, we have an extremely hawkish and religious government in Israel - one of the most extreme ones ever - which therefore, by definition, means that they might not be interested in calming the situation down.

KENYON: Hazan isn't talking about a sharp escalation. That, he says, would benefit no one. But the violence could allow the government to push through some of its hard-line agenda while people are focused on security issues.

HAZAN: But a certain level of violence that can allow the government to implement some of its more extremely hawkish policies towards the Palestinians might actually play into their hands.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR RUMBLING)

KENYON: In the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shayah Monday, pedestrians slip into entryways to allow cars to pass in the narrow streets. Talking in small groups are relatives and neighbors of 21-year-old Khairy Alqam, who shot and killed seven people outside a synagogue last week, also wounding three others before being killed himself. Further up the road, Israeli soldiers are preparing to seal up the family home before its expected demolition. Critics call such tactics collective punishment and a violation of international law. Forty-three-year-old Ali Alqam, Khairy Alqam's uncle, says the Israelis can do what they want. It won't deter future actions by young men who he and others call soldiers of God to avenge the killing of Palestinians by Israelis. But while he criticized Israel, he aimed a major part of his condemnation straight at the Palestinian leadership.

ALI ALQAM: (Through interpreter) It did nothing for the people in the West Bank. Did it build a farm for its people? No. Did it build a factory? No. Did it give jobs to the people? Did it give any salaries to the people? No. All they did was create monopolies in a gangster style.

KENYON: The popularity of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, has plummeted. And Alqam says that's as it should be. But his anger reaches beyond that, not sparing earlier, leaders such as Yasser Arafat, known as Abu Ammar.

ALQAM: (Through interpreter) Who is this Abu Mazen? Who is this Abu Ammar? Who are they? Islamic Jihad and Hamas can crush them.

KENYON: Those are designated as terrorist organizations by numerous countries, including the United States and Israel. When Secretary of State Antony Blinken left Israel Tuesday without any sign of progress, he left members of his team in the region to continue discussions. But he left many here wondering if things will get worse before they get better. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.