By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
It seems that there are some indications that 2023 may witness an Israeli escalation against Palestinians, especially in Jerusalem, and the escalation of resistance in the West Bank (WB), while Gaza Strip (GS) may get into new confrontations with Israel. However, the Palestinian internal situation is not expected to witness any real breakthroughs, whether concerning reconciliation or putting the Palestinian political house in order.
The following are some projections regarding the internal Palestinian scene, Jerusalem, resistance, and the Israeli dossier:
The Internal Palestinian Scene:
Algeria had worked diligently to activate the Palestinian reconciliation file, that resulted in the issuance of the “Algiers Declaration” on 13/10/2022, in which Palestinians agreed to hold elections within one year, and put the Palestinian political house in order, under Algerian and Arab auspices. However, the mentality of leaders governing the PLO and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah, their history, and even their behavior after this agreement, do not provide serious indications that it would be implemented.
The leadership of the PLO and the PA (Fatah’s leadership) will remain obsessed with its continued dominance over the official institutions and the Palestinian “legitimacy.” It will not agree on holding elections that make it lose power, or pave the way for Hamas and the resistance forces to impose their agenda. The Arab countries that are actively engaged in the Palestine file, such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, will stand by the PA’s leadership, and so will the major Western powers, led by the United States. In addition, if there is a chance that the resistance forces will win the elections, Israel will seek to disrupt them, particularly in WB and Jerusalem. Such a path was corroborated by the PA’s continuous security prosecutions of the resistance forces and their supporters, and Abu Mazen’s formation of the Supreme Judicial Council.
Nevertheless, when Israel, under the most extreme government in its history, takes aggressive measures that would limit the PA’s authority further and expose its functional role, it prompts the latter to tactically threaten with the implementation of Palestinian consensus or the PA dissolution, as it previously did when facing Trump’s plan (Deal of the Century). Perhaps the resistance forces may look for an acceptable way out for Fatah, by agreeing on an interim period, during which the Palestinian forces will share in consensual proportions the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the leadership bodies of the PLO and the PA, and their legislative institutions. However, the implementation of this remains highly questionable, at least during 2023.
Jerusalem will be a hot issue in 2023, because the Religious Zionists took over the most sensitive files in this regard. Their agenda include the acceleration of Judaization of al-Aqsa Mosque, ending the status quo on which the management of matters has been based since 1967, and undermining the “Hashemite custodianship.” Judaization will be a central matter for the Israeli government, which will provide the human and material resources needed for the gradual establishment of “facts” on the ground, while exploring the possibility of making them “official” and legal in Israel. The same applies to promoting religious rituals at al-Aqsa Mosque, such as performing the Shema prayer with complete prostration, holding the lulav, moving the menorah inside the Mosque, and the temporal and spatial division.
Other Judaization measures will increase such as land confiscation, settlement building, demolishing Palestinian homes, building Jewish monuments, spreading fake graves, and more.
Therefore, the escalation factors are increasing in Jerusalem, and the Israeli occupation is “playing with fire” that may soon burn its own hands. As for the Palestinian people and the Arab and Muslim Ummah (nation), this would provoke more mobilization to face the aggression.
The Palestinian Resistance:
Resistance action escalated dramatically, particularly in WB. In the first ten months of 2022, resistance action reached about ten thousand attacks, including 639 shootings, 33 stabbing attacks and 13 car-ramming attacks, where 25 Israeli were killed, and 420 were wounded; the highest number of casualties since 2015. In these, individual operations, as well as the hotbeds of resistance in Jenin and Nablus, had a clear role.
Due to the formation of the most religiously and racially extremist government, that has a repressive and aggressive program against the Palestinian people, their land and holy sites, it is expected that Palestinian resistance action will escalate in 2023. Thus, reinforcing the resistance options among Palestinians, and making the PA lose its raison d’être in the eyes of the Palestinians.
Furthermore, the escalation of Judaization measures and Israeli oppression, especially in Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque, may eventually push the resistance forces to launch another “Sword of Jerusalem” Battle (or as dubbed by Israel Operation Guardian of the Walls). Such a move would be supported by the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim public, and even may gain global public sympathy.
Therefore, the year 2023 comes with conditions on the verge of eruption, hence the factors for enhancing the resistance action are increasing. However, the US and pro-normalization regional forces will seek to avoid such a path, by reducing the Israeli extremism level, and partially trying to improve the living conditions of Palestinians.
Netanyahu has formed the most extremist government in the history of Israel, and the influence of Religious Zionism, settler groups, and “Temple” groups in the state and its institutions is increasing, therefore, the Jewish religious nature of Israel will get clearer. It will reflect on Israel’s understanding of the conflict, its performance on the ground, the internal Israeli environment, and the way it deals with regional and international environments. Consequently, Israeli internal problems and the conflict between secular and religious movements may exacerbate, and the relationship between the religion and the state would tighten, with attempts to impose biblical teachings on public life.
Internally, having a majority of 64 Knesset seats makes the Israeli government enjoy some stability. However, its “extremist” performance may be a source of concern to the US and the normalizing Arab states, who fear that the remaining illusions of peace process would be ruined, and conditions would deteriorate. Therefore, Netanyahu will try to control the foreign relations dossier, push for more normalization, and preoccupy the various powers with the Iranian issue.
The Religious Zionists and their allies would be managing the internal security, overlooking the police and the Civil Administration in WB, and having quite an influence on the army. Therefore, an urgent “legalization” of 65 settlement outposts is expected, as a first batch, while further legitimization and expansion of settlements is to be seen. The Palestinian people and their protests will be dealt with extreme cruelty, while there will be leniency towards the Israelis who shoot Palestinians or commit premeditated murder. The Israelis will try to administer WB with an “iron fist,” suppressing resistance actions and hotspots in Nablus, Jenin and others, and following the example of Sharon’s behavior during al-Aqsa Intifadah 2000–2005, perhaps more severely. The PA will be pushed to carry out its functional role of serving the occupation agenda, while punitive measures would be taken such as the withholding of PA tax-clearance revenues, tightening the GS siege, and preventing workers from entering the 1948 occupied territories for work. The Palestinians of 1948 will also witness more suffering, difficulties and pressures. In addition, the agenda that we referred to regarding al-Aqsa and Jerusalem will be implemented.
Perhaps the foregoing represents the necessary recipe for the eruption of events in occupied Palestine, and for the masses to start a new Intifadah. At the same time, history has shown that when extremists assume official positions in Israel, they become more cautious and pragmatic in implementing their agendas. They will escalate matters, based on calculations that would bring the highest gains, while trying to avoid paying big prices for which they are not ready, such as the collapse of the PA, a third Intifadah, or a war on GS…; However, these calculations are not guaranteed, where they may backfire, as happened in the “Sword of Jerusalem” Battle, in 2021.
In the next article, we will review the projected Palestinian paths 2023, in the Arab, Muslim and international environments…
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 29/12/2022