Escalation in Jerusalem and the West Bank

Mohamed Abu Shaar , Saturday 19 Feb 2022

Israel’s assassination of three Palestinian resistance figures could usher in escalation affecting the Palestinian Authority, reports Mohamed Abu Shaar from Gaza.

Escalation in Jerusalem and the West Bank
Mourners carry the bodies of three Palestinian who were killed by Israel during their funeral in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus, Tuesday (photo: AP)

Israel stepped up the confrontation in Occupied Jerusalem and various locations on the West Bank this week by killing four Palestinians and injuring dozens of others.

The Palestinian factions threatened to respond to Israel’s aggression from both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, ending the tenuous calm in Gaza.

The Israeli army began the latest escalation with the assassination of three members of the Al-Aqsa Brigades, the armed wing of Fatah on 8 February. Israeli special forces went to the centre of Nablus on the West Bank in a taxi and carried out their first direct assassinations on the West Bank in many years.

In response, armed resistance groups in the West Bank attacked Israeli army targets and threatened more operations.

On 14 February, the Israeli Occupation Army (IOF) clashed with armed Palestinians in the Jenin Refugee Camp on the West Bank in the first large-scale armed response by the Palestinian armed factions to Israel’s incursions into the West Bank since 2002.

Israel had then destroyed the entire Jenin Camp when it invaded the West Bank in Operation Defensive Shield led by former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.

Israel’s incursion into Jenin killed one Palestinian youth and injured others, as the IOF attempted to demolish the home of detainee Mahmoud Jaradat, accused of shooting at Israeli settlers.

The escalation on the ground deepened the predicament facing the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank, as well as the unprecedented financial and political crisis it has been experiencing as no one in Israel is willing to return to the negotiating table for peace talks.

The PA is also not able to take control of the security situation in many areas on the West Bank.

A report issued by the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University warned that the current impasse facing the PA could make its collapse only a matter of time.

The impasse is due to Israel’s actions, failed Palestinian reconciliation efforts, dim prospects for peace, Hamas’ attempts to control the West Bank, and growing numbers of opponents to the Palestinian president within and outside Fatah institutions.

Mekheimar Abu Saada, a political analyst and professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, said that “everyone knows that the position of the PA is weak, especially in terms of security, even though it has invested billions in building security agencies and strengthening the security forces.”

“The PA is now confined to the city of Ramallah,” Abu Saada said.

Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, he added that “what makes matters worse is the problem of convening the Central Council in the absence of a Palestinian consensus on holding a meeting, and imposing new appointments in sensitive positions in the Palestinian Liberation Organisation [PLO], which led to divisions inside Fatah after historical Fatah figures were excluded.”

Abu Saada was referring to a meeting of the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) that convened recently and at which Hussein Al-Sheikh was appointed a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, the highest Palestinian executive agency, and Raouhi Fatouh was appointed chair of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the highest parliamentary agency.

Al-Sheikh and Fatouh are close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and observers believe that they are being groomed to succeed him.

“The main reasons for the PA’s weakness are the policies and presence of the Israeli occupation,” Abu Saada said. The recent assassinations in the West Bank have greatly damaged the PA and its security agencies, which some accuse of being in tune with Israel.

Despite the Israeli escalation, Tel Aviv wants the PA to survive because it does not want to take on the responsibility of the West Bank if the PA institutions collapse, Abu Saada said.

A critical choice for the PA in the coming phase will be how to implement the decisions of the PCC regarding suspending the recognition of Israel and ending security coordination with Tel Aviv.

This will show how serious the PA is about taking these steps and how tolerant Israel will be if these decisions are implemented, transforming the West Bank into a vast arena of confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians.

This could take place in the form of popular resistance or armed resistance, which is gradually becoming more likely.

Along with Israel’s escalation in the West Bank, the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in Occupied Jerusalem has once again been at the forefront of events. There were extensive clashes between Jerusalem residents and Israeli police and settlers when the Israeli authorities tried to evacuate a house in Sheikh Jarrah under the pretext that it belongs to a settler association.

Tensions peaked in the Jerusalem neighbourhood when extremist right-wing Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir decided to set up a tent in the middle of it before it was removed by Israeli police following warnings that the situation could spiral out of control.

This was a reminder of the trigger of the Israeli war on Gaza in May 2021, sparked by Israeli aggression in Sheikh Jarrah followed by Hamas launching several rockets towards Jerusalem.

The war lasted for 12 days and ended through Egyptian and UN mediation in the restoration of calm in Gaza and the beginning of reconstruction after extensive damage had been inflicted.

The Palestinian factions view Israel’s escalation in the West Bank and Sheikh Jarrah as “playing with fire” and say it sends a message to mediators to intervene and to try to defuse tensions caused by Israel’s aggression in Jerusalem.

“Events in Abu Jarrah and the recent assassinations will lead to a stronger reaction in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The Gaza Strip will not be far behind,” said Abu Saada.

However, he added that it is unlikely that the armed Palestinian factions in Gaza will enter into military confrontations, as was the case last May.

Gaza has been under siege for 15 years and suffers from appalling humanitarian and economic conditions. Hamas, Abu Saada said, understands the need to avoid military confrontations that could exacerbate the misery and pain in Gaza.

The symbolic value of Occupied Jerusalem for the Palestinians, the impatience of the armed factions in the Gaza Strip about Israel’s dragging its feet in lifting the siege, Israel’s obstruction of reconstruction efforts, and its blocking of the transfer of Qatari funds to Hamas employees are all pressure points that could lead to further escalation.

Whatever the interim calculations, whether regarding conditions in Jerusalem or the West Bank, the PA’s resilience and survival, or even the end of the truce between the armed factions in the Gaza Strip and Israel, political and security matters remain open to various options, many of which could be explosive.

Meanwhile, Israel’s intransigence in dealing with the PA and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, continues, with Tel Aviv refusing to make any concessions on any issues with either side

*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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