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Israel is preparing for the situation in the West Bank to explode

A protester prepares to throw a rock in response to Israeli forces' intervention in a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's Middle East plan, in Hebron, West Bank on January 30, 2020 [Mamoun Wazwaz/Anadolu Agency]
A protester prepares to throw a rock in response to Israeli forces' intervention in a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's Middle East plan, in Hebron, West Bank on January 30, 2020 [Mamoun Wazwaz/Anadolu Agency]

At the height of monitoring the Palestinian reactions to the "deal of the century", Israel warned of the possibility of the outbreak of escalations on the ground in the West Bank. There were fears of members of the Palestinian security services and members of Fatah joining these escalations, as was the case during the Second Intifada.

There were Israeli fears that matters would get out of the PA's control and Fatah members would engage in poplar confrontations. They also feared that the Palestinian security would use the weapons in its possession and point them at Israeli occupation soldiers.

Given the growing talk in Tel Aviv of the potential annexation of Palestinian areas in the West Bank as the "deal of the century" is implemented, this may lead to a field escalation.

Perhaps Tel Aviv understood late that merely talking about annexation, not implementation, could ignite the situation on the ground with the Palestinians, and pour more oil on the fire of tension already existing in the Palestinian areas.

Although the current situation in the Palestinian territories is similar to what it was in 2015 and 2016, it seems difficult to restore security calm in the Palestinian areas to what it was before the announcement of the deal of the century. This prompted Israeli security circles to ask politicians to stop their talk of possible annexation in the West Bank, because that would also harm security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli generals have warned that a field escalation with Palestinians may remain limited in response to the deal of the century as long as the practical launch of annexing the West Bank areas has not started, despite the fact that the past few days have witnessed several commando attacks against Israeli targets in Jerusalem, and the outbreak of popular confrontations in Jenin, and the firing of incendiary rockets and balloons from Gaza. However, the Israeli assessment believes that we are not at the beginning of a new Palestinian intifada, but rather a wave of operations, in which killings brings about new killings.

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The Israelis are counting on the fact that security coordination with the PA has not stopped, and the PA is thinking long and hard about the fact that while it continues to make its threats, it is aware of how high the cost is and the losses it will experience if it responds to the outbreak of a new intifada. Therefore, it believes that as long as Israel does not take any unilateral steps before the elections, the results of any behaviour, such as stopping security coordination, will have consequences on the ground, specifically regarding the future of its survival.

However, that does not prevent us from saying that we see a gradual escalation of the situation in the West Bank, but it is due to local field decisions, and not general trends. We have not seen, so far, the outbreak of massive confrontations in the West Bank, but we can agree on the points we have always warned about in the past.

While it is true that the Palestinians do not really like the deal of the century, as long as it does not result in practical applications on the ground, especially in regarding annexation, the Palestinian response will not result in the outbreak of an intifada. While the public in the West Bank have not taken to the streets yet, any unilateral annexation is enough for them to take to the streets and ignite the West Bank.

The current level of deterioration can be stopped and reined in by reviewing the methods that can be used to prevent the deterioration of the overall field situation in the West Bank.

The first Israeli method is related to the intense and extensive gathering of security and intelligence data in the field – especially through social networking sites – in order to identify the active groups that incite attacks, and can be a source of carrying out operations. This can be achieved by initiating a series of arrests, warning conversations with their families, and coordination with the Palestinian security services to convince them that the escalation will not serve the Palestinian situation, and that it may instead lead to more bloodshed.

The second Israeli method is to reinforce the Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank. They must also consider the fact that deploying more security forces means more opportunities to target Israeli soldiers, which requires establishing more security precautions for soldiers and protecting them with cement blocks.

The third Israeli means is not to disrupt the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank.

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Despite all the possible motives for a Third Intifada to ignite, Palestinian have not taken to the streets yet in large numbers and they have not attacked the Israeli military checkpoints spread across the West Bank.

The first of these reasons is the intense presence of the Israeli army in the West Bank, which prevents the outbreak of the intifada, despite the availability of all factors for it to launch. This presence is linked to providing security and intelligence information that results in thwarting Palestinian attacks that are being planned.

The second factor relates to security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which provides an infrastructure of security information that thwarts efforts to launch the intifada. They have a common interest to prevent Hamas from achieving its military aspirations and emerging in the West Bank, and thwarting armed attacks, because Palestinian security forces arrested dozens and hundreds of Hamas members.

The third factor relates to the continuing division between Fatah and Hamas, and between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This hinders the launch of all popular movement in the West Bank, and the organisation of field confrontations. This division serves the Israeli government at the political and security levels.

The fourth factor is due to the loss of Palestinian confidence in the Palestinian leadership, which raises the question: Who are we fighting Israel for? Is it in order to increase the bank balances of Palestinian officials and their children to lead luxurious lives outside of the Palestinian territories?

It is true that the security tension witnessed in the West Bank is not something that happened overnight, but rather is due to a number of economic and social reasons. It was only a matter of time before the next explosion and the talk of Israeli politicians regarding annexation is oil on the current fire of tension.

However, this tension in the Palestinian territories is sufficient to become a severe wave of violence. It is not a full blown and comprehensive escalation, and certainly not a new intifada, because what has been done so far is a series of individual attacks that simulate previous operations that so far have not spiralled out of control.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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