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Why are Palestinian responses to the Israeli annexation plan so limited?

June 8, 2020 at 4:10 pm

Israeli military’s tanks seen stationed in the Jordan Valley during a military training excercise, on May 5, 2015 [Shadi Hatem/Apaimages]

The Israeli army is preparing for the annexation of the West Bank, and possible Palestinian responses, although calls for action against the occupation state may not be heeded in the present circumstances. Various factors make it unlikely for the Palestinians to engage in activities against Israel, including the Palestinian Authority’s rejection of armed resistance (President Mahmoud Abbas is ready to thwart attacks against the colonial-settler state), the poor economic situation and Fatah’s fear of Hamas taking control of the West Bank.

With the countdown to annexation beginning in early July, the assessment of the Israeli security services is that if it goes ahead, then armed resistance will resume, both in the West Bank and within Israel, and the consequences may include the collapse of the PA. A new intifada cannot be ruled out.

The Israeli army and security services have apparently discussed the possibility of post-annexation escalation, and are preparing to play war games simulating possible scenarios in the occupied Palestinian territories. There are serious Israeli concerns about the costs of the government’s plans, whether financial and economic, or in terms of security and escalations in the field.

It is estimated by Israeli security and economic experts that it will cost the state close to $288 million to confront Palestinian opposition to annexation. Such a sum, based on the latest data, would disrupt the Israeli economy. Moreover, in the worst-case scenario, recruiting the extra troops needed in the field would cost around $28.8 million per battalion; each operational battalion costs $17 million a year plus $11.5 million for salaries.

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During Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, just in the West Bank, the Israel Defence Forces recruited five divisions, three regular and two reserve, and each reserve had 20-25 battalions, costing millions upon millions of dollars. The cost of the Border Police must be added to these expenses. The longer any intifada lasts, the more the costs will rise.

Moreover, millions of dollars will be needed to modernise the infrastructure, and supply weapons and ammunition specifically for demonstrations and sniping. The Israeli security nightmare is that Palestinian security forces join operations against illegal settlers and the IDF’s moves on major West Bank roads. If that happens, the analysts believe that 10 reserve battalions will be mobilised by the end of 2020, in which case, the Palestinians would have no reason to stop their operations against Israel.

However, such predictions are not the main argument put forward by Israelis against annexation; the whole idea is negative in every respect morally, politically and in security terms. Nothing comes free in politics, so its annexation plan will cause Israel an immediate headache.

More dangerous is the fact that the price of annexation will include the possibility of armed confrontation across the northern border in Lebanon, and the involvement of Palestinian citizens in Israel itself, as happened at the beginning of the Second (Aqsa) Intifada. There could also be regional consequences.

It is true that the PA is not really interested in breaking ties with Israel and does not want to lose its government and economic assets as a result of widespread escalation. The main threat to Israel is not embodied by the PA’s threats, though; it is the way that the Palestinian public will respond which counts. This poses a real challenge, and the PA will find it difficult to keep its promise that stopping security collaboration with the occupation authorities will not be accompanied by a wave of escalation.

The tension in the West Bank, and the death of a soldier from the Golani Brigade in the town of Ya`bad when he was hit by a stone, suggests that we may be on the verge of several armed resistance operations, whether organised escalations or not. However, the attack took place during a relatively quiet period for Israel, with very few hostile attacks, although stones are thrown and Molotov cocktails have been used. This has sent Israel the message that whenever it confronts an armed Palestinian attack, it will face further security tension and incidents.

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Despite all the pessimism, the relative calm that the West Bank has experienced over the past decade raises questions about the PA’s commitment to relations with Israel and ensuring its own economic stability. Although the stalemate with Israel has continued at the political level, the Abbas Presidential era since 2005 has been characterised by persistent crises: Israel launched three major military offensives against Gaza in 2008-2009, 2012 and 2014; the 2015 “knife uprising”; the 2017 crisis at Al-Aqsa Mosque; the move of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018; and the recent dramatic developments of the “deal of the century” as well as the coronavirus crisis.

Strategic warnings by Israel have punctuated these crises, including the threat of a large-scale armed uprising like the Aqsa Intifada in 2000, or a third popular uprising such as the 1987 First Intifada, it has not materialised. This calls us to question the reasons behind what can be described as the PA’s strange silence and deep hatred of armed struggle against Israel, along with its fear that Hamas will become stronger and take control of the West Bank.

The lack of any substantial Palestinian response to Israeli aggression is due substantially to the fact that the people are alienated from their leadership. Senior PA officials are accused of financial corruption and are preventing the revival of the Palestinian political institutions. Opinion polls give a clear indication of this alienation, with more than 60 per cent of Palestinians looking forward to Mahmoud Abbas stepping down. The PA thus finds it difficult to mobilise public support for the actions that it promotes, and explains why official responses to Israel’s annexation plans are so limited.

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