By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
This year may witness some Palestinian reconciliation developments, albeit incomplete and booby-trapped! The peace process may get activated and most probably the normalization process will not stop. However, it will not accelerate. Benjamin Netanyahu may bid farewell to the premiership, but the influence and impact of the right-wing forces will grow. Attempts will continue to make the resistance forces submit to the Oslo Accords, while the Palestine issue will remain in labor, struggling between those attempting to settle the issue and those attempting to launch a new Intifadah.
The Internal Palestinian Situation
To strengthen the Palestinian position against the Israeli projects of annexation and Judaization, and against the normalization processes in the Arab and Muslim world, Hamas has waived most of its objections and gave up most of its strength cards of managing the internal Palestinian situation; consequently the door is now open to proceed with the elections of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), according to the conditions and perceptions of the Fatah movement and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The elections are supposed to take place, while the PA is up to its knees in security cooperation with Israel, and the PA is still convinced with the peace process and the peace talks. The current PLC will not be activated until elections are held, the condition of election synchronization no longer exists (The synchronization of the presidential and legislative elections, in addition to the elections of the Palestinian National Council (PNC)). Hamas and the resistance forces, along with Fatah, have committed themselves to the ceiling of popular resistance at this stage. That is, it linked its resistive action, particularly in the West Bank (WB), to the PA’s conditions and standards, hoping one day it would evolve into a popular and armed Intifadah.
In this political environment, where the leaderships of the PA and the PLO (the Fatah leadership) hold most of the internal cards and are considered by the Arab states and the international community “legitimate,” legislative elections will be sought in the summer of 2021. However, if there were clear indications that Hamas and the resistance forces will win the relative majority or more than half the seats, it is very unlikely that elections will be held. For the mentality of the Palestinian leadership does not allow the handover of power and the “relegitimization” of the Hamas leadership, and these are also neither accepted by Israel nor by the current Arab and international environments.
Therefore, elections may take place only if Fatah and its allies win, which would deny Hamas the legislative “legitimacy” and lead to three main outcomes:
First: Hamas would hand over the Gaza Strip (GS) to the new legitimacy.
Second: The Fatah movement and the PA and PLO leaderships will be reinvigorated, which would enable them to renew their legitimacy, represent the “whole” Palestinian people, and include Hamas and the resistance forces in the PA and the PLO as “minorities” who must respect the majority’s opinion.
Third: The Fatah leadership would proceed with the peace process, since President-elect Biden is expected to revive it.
However, since Hamas will not be ready to hand over GS, as Fatah wishes, and there is no agreement on a Palestinian national program, nor on the way to deal with the Oslo Accords and their requirements. Consequently, the “dust” swept under the rug, the political powder keg and the security crises will inevitably reappear and explode, which would bring down the reconciliation efforts that may have faltered, if not failed, after the “legislative” elections.
The PA’s return to the agreements and security coordination, at the height of the reconciliation talks, has given a clear indication of its mentality that gives no value to the partnership. The PA is overwhelmed with obligations, inconsistent with the resistance program, but doesn’t really want to be detached from it.
The Peace Process and the US Attitude
Biden’s election win will be an opportunity to stop the “deal of the century” bulldozer, and return to the traditional peace formula of the US Democratic Party, following the policies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The new US administration will try to revive the peace process, offer some incentives to the PA like resuming financial aid, reopen PLO office in Washington, not giving cover to the Israeli annexation plans, and reduce the pressure (without stopping it) on Arab and Muslim countries regarding normalization with Israel. Nevertheless, Israel will remain the cornerstone of US policy in the Middle East, and Biden’s administration will continue to provide cover for the Israeli Judaization and settlement programs, without reversing what Trump has done for Israel during his term.
Therefore, the Judaization programs, especially for Jerusalem and the rest of WB, will continue, so as to emphasize the “Jewish identity” of Jerusalem, impose spatial and temporal division of al-Aqsa mosque, and “legitimize” the Jewish incursions into it. Moreover, Israel’s forcible transfer policies of Palestinians from Jerusalem will continue, including Palestinian home demolitions, banning building permits, revocation of the Jerusalem residency status of Palestinians, exorbitant taxes, prohibiting cultural, social and sports events, and spreading corruption and drugs.
Normalization and the Arab Environment
No fundamental change in the Arab behavior towards the Palestine issue is expected, where this behavior will continue to reflect the weakness, fragility, backwardness and division of the Arab landscape; despite the upheavals and conflicts witnessed by the region. The US and Israel will continue the normalization process, where more Arab and Muslim countries could join, such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, Indonesia, Mauritania and Mali. However, the local, regional and international pressures on these countries, which entail complicated calculations, will determine their decisions.
The Arab and Muslim landscape will maintain its support for the peace process, albeit it would be less committed to the “Arab Peace Initiative.” It will continue to view the resistance and “political Islam” in a negative way; hence, the Palestinian resistance forces (Hamas, al-Jihad …) will not be welcomed by the “Arab legitimacy.”
The Israeli Behavior
Israel was overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, whose cases surpassed 400 thousand, and by one of its worst economic years since its establishment, declining by 12%, and by the worst tourism performance falling by –76%. It may continue to accumulate losses in the first half of 2021, and perhaps it would start growing by the summer, but it may take up to several years for it to fully recover from the impact of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Israeli political unstable conditions will continue, entering the fourth elections within two years. The tendency towards religious and nationalist right-wing extremism will prevail, at a time the center and the right-wing parties are so fluid and fragmented. Gideon Sa‘ar has quit the Likud party and formed the New Hope party, which is projected to win 19–20 seats, thus draining a significant number of parliamentary seats from Likud, and consequently Netanyahu’s chances of forming a new government will diminish. The chances of doubling the seats of the far-right Yamina alliance were also enhanced, at a time the Blue and White party is falling apart.
In such circumstances, there are low chances of Israeli war on GS, Lebanon or Iran, but this won’t prevent Israel from conducting targeted military strikes to maintain its role as the region’s policeman, and to emphasize that it is the one that controls the rules of the game. Israel will continue with its GS siege, where restrictions would be tightened or relaxed according to developments, however, the siege itself is not expected to be lifted unless Hamas’s rule on GS ends.
Finally, these expectations are made according to the available data and the logical context of the general trends of events. However, this region is usually full of unexpected turn of events.
The forces of reform and change must not only make wishes, for they are still targeted. They must work day and night to face the great challenges that lie ahead.