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Israel’s security officials warn of West Bank eruption, and they are right

Members of Israeli security forces inspect the site of a reported attack on an Israeli bus, in the occupied West Bank. (AFP)
Members of Israeli security forces inspect the site of a reported attack on an Israeli bus, in the occupied West Bank. (AFP)
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07 Sep 2022 05:09:07 GMT9
07 Sep 2022 05:09:07 GMT9

The attack by three armed Palestinians on a bus carrying Israeli soldiers in the occupied Jordan Valley on Sunday should come as no surprise, least of all to the Israeli government. Israeli security officials have been warning that the West Bank is a tinderbox that could explode at any time. They have talked about a third intifada in the making. Some even hinted that the fragile security situation in the West Bank could be more dangerous than the one in Gaza.

The attack, carried out by three relatives, one of whom carried an Israeli ID card, was claimed by Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, but is more likely to have been one more case of a “lone wolf” attack, the kind that Israel has been unable to predict and foil despite the fact that for weeks it has been intensifying raids against Palestinian towns and refugee camps to round up suspected activists. In many of these raids, Israeli soldiers have been accused of gunning down — in cold blood — young Palestinian activists whose crime was to resist the occupation.

The killing spree has resulted in the assassination of no fewer than 140 Palestinian civilians, including women and children, in the West Bank since the beginning of this year. Hundreds have been arrested and most are being held under administrative detention without charge. With all kinds of constraints under occupation and with the Palestinian Authority losing control of the population, it is no wonder that Israeli security officials are warning of a sudden eruption in the West Bank. A new intifada would have dire consequences for Israel and the Palestinians, although not in equal measure.

Israel’s decades-old ruthless occupation is reaching a climax.

What makes this round of violence different? First, the Palestinian Authority is out of touch with its own people and unable to provide protection to millions of Palestinians who, at least in theory, live under its control. Second, the Palestinian Authority is unable to chart a way out of years of political stalemate that has encouraged successive Israeli governments to push for more settlement building, more expropriation of Palestinian lands, more collective punishments, more demolition of Palestinian homes, all while looking the other way as illegal settlers attack Palestinians in their homes and in their fields.

And third, with the waning of the Palestinian Authority’s influence, other players are stepping in, such Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and even young Fatah activists who are frustrated with an ailing and submissive leadership.

The reality is that Israel’s so-called ‘lawn-mowing’ policy is, at the end of the day, a zero-sum equation, as Sunday’s attack underlines.

Osama Al-Sharif

While Israel’s short-sighted and brutal policy is going on — with zero accountability — Israeli politicians are engaged in heated election campaigns that have one thing in common: Not a single mention of a political settlement with the Palestinians. It is staggering that the fight today in Israel is between the right, the religious right and the far right, and none believes in reaching a peaceful settlement that culminates in giving the Palestinians the right to self-determination.

For successive, and future, Israeli governments the only way to deal with Palestinian resistance to occupation, which now inches closely toward partitioning what remains of the West Bank and keeping Palestinian urban areas isolated from each other, is through sheer force. But the reality is that Israel’s so-called “lawn-mowing” policy is, at the end of the day, a zero-sum equation, as Sunday’s attack underlines.

With no glimmer of hope, tens of thousands of young Palestinians are resorting to militancy. That is Israel’s fault and no one else’s. This is happening as Israeli voters lean more to the right and far right with every election cycle. The secular left in Israel is seen as an enemy within by the settlers and the religious right. So much so that extremist and openly racist Israeli lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was once banned from joining the army because of his extremist ideology, is now surging ahead in the polls for the November elections. Former Premier Benjamin Netanyahu is bringing together one of the most radical coalitions in Israel’s history. He, too, is now ahead in the polls.

Marginal and isolated calls for open and wholesale transfer of Palestinians are slowly becoming components of mainstream party platforms with unmistakable racist tones. Israel’s attempt to subjugate almost 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank, by force or through a lop-sided policy of providing economic dividends, will be short-lived. No amount of US or European aid to the Palestinian Authority will help stem the anger and frustration that is building in the West Bank. We are slowly, but surely, arriving at a point of reckoning.

If and when a third intifada erupts, Israel will resort to force to crush it. But unlike in Gaza, there will not be rocket launchers to strike and Israel’s F-15s will have no targets. Israel will kill as many Palestinians as the world will allow, but the tremors will travel well beyond the Green Line and inside Israel proper.

Even if the intifada is crushed — at great human cost — it will not resolve Israel’s conundrum. The central issue will remain the occupation and the situation will remain combustible. The question is not if the Palestinians will survive, because they will, but if Israel can remain united in the aftermath.

• Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.
Twitter: @plato010

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