By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
Since early this year, there have been escalations in the West Bank (WB) that may lead later on to further violence, in the form of popular Intifadah (uprising) or resistance operations and armed action. They may also witness in parallel the weakening or disintegration of the security forces of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the Israeli forces would stand helpless as the popular support of resistance expands, and the public support for the peace settlement and the PA would diminish.
The first escalation factor is what is happening in al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem. The Israeli aggression against both of them has escalated at an unprecedented pace; a planned and systematic one led by the right-wing and religious forces, who have increasingly become deeply rooted in the Israeli society and who have dominated the Israeli government and politics for years. The Temple groups are spearheading the efforts to raise the ceiling of demands, observing reactions, and establishing new realities on the ground, whenever opportunities arise.
These groups exploit the Jewish religious seasons to achieve new gains, and their efforts are currently directed towards imposing temporal and spatial division of al-Aqsa Mosque, and the foundation of the intangible temple in place of the Mosque. Therefore, there were attempts to introduce aspects of Jewish worship in al-Aqsa, such as performing complete prostration, blowing the trumpet, and imposing biblical sacrificial rites. Their incursions into al-Aqsa have reached unprecedented numbers since the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, exceeding 50 thousand since the beginning of this year.
At the same, time has proven that al-Aqsa and Jerusalem are explosive issues that lead to the eruption of revolutions, wars and uprisings, the last of which was the Sword of Jerusalem Battle (dubbed by Israel Operation Guardian of the Walls) in May 2021. These battles are not fought by the Palestinian people alone, but by the Ummah (Muslim nation), who is united by al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem.
The second escalation factor is the significant escalation of all forms of resistance action, especially the armed resistance. This year, individual operations have dealt severe and shocking blows to the Israeli society, such as the operations of Mohammad Ghaleb Abu al-Qi‘an in Beersheba 22/3/2022; Diya’ Hamarsheh in Bnei Brak 29/3/2022; Ra‘ad Hazem in Tel Aviv 7/4/2022; and As‘ad al-Rafa‘i and Subhi Abu Shqair in Elad near Tel Aviv 5/5/2022; etc. These operations have inflicted an unprecedented number of deaths. Shootings incidents have also significantly increased over the past years (Israel admitted 130 attacks in the first eight months, compared to 98 for the same period last year, and 19 for the same period in 2020). In addition, resistance outposts have spread in WB, and strongholds have emerged in Jenin and Nablus. The resistance operations have become more daring and visible, while the popular support has increased.
The third escalation factor is that the resistance action has confused the Israeli and PA calculations, where their repressive measures no longer have the desired impact, but rather the opposite, resistance action would escalate. The Israeli behavior and arrogance that accompanied the assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh, for example, have caused outrage in Palestine and the world. Also, the arrogance shown by the Israelis when they arrested Sheikh Bassam al-Saadi led to major escalation and confrontation with Israel led by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) Movement (5–7/8/2022). The same case was when Ibrahim al-Nabulsi and his companions were assassinated (9/8/2022), etc. Moreover, the PA’s repressive policy and security coordination have increased the resentment and anger against the services the PA offers to Israel, last of which was the detention of Mus‘ab Shtayyeh in Nablus.
The fourth escalation factor is related to the disruption of the Palestinian reconciliation process, and in the fact that the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the PA have thwarted these efforts. There is also widespread frustration in the Palestinian society towards this leadership that has lost confidence and credibility, with growing convictions—as opinion polls have shown—in the necessity of change; while the resistance and its symbols are enjoying increasing confidence and trust in them. This means that the current leadership lacks more than ever the public support or “popular legitimacy.” Thus, it is difficult for the PA to have a public who are responsive.
The fifth escalation factor is related to the failure of the PA; i.e., becoming a burden on the Palestinian people, while being unable to meet even the “functional” services needed by the Palestinians. For the costs of recognizing Israel, cooperating with it and suppressing the resistance, are much higher than the economic service returns that the PA is trying to convince the people with. In other words, this authority is “eroding,” and every day it loses more justifications for its existence.
The sixth escalation factor is related to the failure of the peace process, the absence of a political horizon, and the collapse of the two-state solution. This prompts the Palestinians to increasingly support the resistance option, in all its forms, especially the armed struggle.
The seventh escalation factor is related to the Fatah movement and its internal divisions; the struggle to inherit its president, Mahmud ‘Abbas; and the confusion and fragmentation it has, especially after disrupting the elections and the reconciliation process. Nevertheless, its leadership keeps insisting on its dominance over the PLO and the PA, granting power to figures who don’t enjoy public acceptance, consequently increasing vacuum and anxiety in the Palestinian scene, and the fear of competition and instability in the WB after the death of Abu Mazen.
Israel will most likely try to absorb the shocks in WB, by offering some economic privileges and allowing more Palestinians from WB to work in the 1948 occupied territories. It will try to deter the resistance the most, hence the latter will most likely witness more repression. Israel will also push for more security coordination with the PA, and will try to preserve what remains of the PA’s “authority” or “prestige,” so as the latter would continue exercising its functions.
Moreover, Israel will carefully monitor the reactions to its aggressive Judaization plan in al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem; and based on that it will manage the pace so as not to reach the point of explosion. At the same time, it will bet on the weakness and fragmentation of the Arab world; its normalization breakthroughs in the region; its siege of the resistance forces; and the world’s preoccupation with the war in Ukraine, in order to single out the Palestinian file.
However, still conditions in WB have strong potential for more escalation.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 28/9/2022