Israel-Palestine Region: Int Brief

Time Period: [30 Nov’18-14 Dec’18]

Current Situation:

  1. Reports indicate that Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah leader Mohammad Abbas intends to force sanctions on Gaza to coerce Hamas cede the governance of the strip to PA. Iran backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement leader Ziad Al-Nakhaleh, called for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas for a united response for the survival of the Palestine freedom movement. Also, on 30th November 2018, Fatah condemned US resolution against Hamas as a show of political support, as it is a fundamental element of Palestine freedom struggle. However, the internal power crisis remains evident, as, on 9th December 2018, Palestine President Mohammad Abbas said that Hamas dominated Palestine Legislative Council (PLC) will soon be dissolved.
  2. Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have been fighting a three-front war in West Bank, along Gaza-Israel border, and Golan Heights over the weeks (30 Nov-14 Dec) under observation. There has been a spate of protests including some attacks by Palestinians on Israeli soldiers in Northern (Ramallah, Nablus, Tulkarm) and Southern areas (Hebron) of the West Bank. Also, there have been reports of heightened protests by Palestinians (from Gaza) along the Gaza-Israel border in a bid to return to the West Bank. Finally, Israel has launched operation Northern Shield on 04th December, in order to destroy the underground tunnels in Southern Lebanon and Hezbollah strongholds in Golan Heights along the Syrian border.
  3. There has been a notable increase in Right Wing Nationalism and race-based hate crime in parts of West Bank along Israeli settlements located among Palestinian households, leading to launch of IDF operations in the areas. Calls for increasing Israeli settlements in West Banks from prominent Israeli leaders, like Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein on 2nd December and allocation of $187 million for Israeli settlements near Gaza strip by Benjamin Netanyahu, have fueled right-wing activities. Also, on 2nd December, there were reports of Israeli settlers vandalizing vehicles owned by Palestinians in Kufr Kassem area.
  4. As per the prevailing geopolitical trend, the bilateral relations between the Israel and Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia gained momentum, with the delivery of critical espionage software. The mutual interest has been driven by common enmity towards Iran and its affiliated groups. Even though the relations remain below the threshold, there have been reports on cooperation such as the use of chemical products of SABIC (a Saudi company) in Israeli factories located in settlement areas of Salfit Governorate (Northern West Bank)

Assessment:

1. Palestine Authority (PA)-Hamas struggle for political authority

  • The Palestinian Authority (PA) led by Mohammad Abbas of Fatah party, has been at odds with Hamas since 2007 when the former failed to accept the result of parliamentary elections and was kicked out of Gaza strip. Since then PA governs West Bank while Gaza remains under Hamas. With a fundamental difference in their approach regarding Palestine Statehood movement and working relationship with Israel, both parties have missed several opportunities for reconciliation including the last meeting in Egypt in October 2017. The recent attempt led by Ziad Al-Nakhaleh, the political bureau chief of Palestinian Islamic Jehad Movement, met with similar fate.
  • In this context, the differences between the two parties have further deepened over the last few weeks. While, PA continues to consider Hamas as an indivisible and inalienable part of Palestine movement, pledging it political support through PLO at various diplomatic forums including UN, the ideological difference have been causing anxiety among supporters over the possibility of a united front. The crisis further deepened, with Mohammad Abbas devising means to wield political and moral authority from Hamas either through a dissolution of Hamas dominated Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) or by imposing sanctions on Gaza. This was evident on 14th December, when PA authorities used force to suppress Hamas led a protest march against Israeli settlements in Hebron.
  • Given the political differences between two parties in the Palestinian political scene, there will be a spike in protests by supporters of either party in the areas surrounding Israeli settlements leading to heightened violence. Frustration among supporters arising out of political push-pull between two parties will further increase the level of violence. This would compel Israel to divide its force deployment between East Jerusalem and Areas (A, B, and C) affecting daily life.

2. Israel’s three front war

  • With the presence of Iran backed Hezbollah along Golan Heights, the continuing great return march protests since March 30, 2018 by Palestinians along Gaza-Israel border and attacks on Israeli settlements in the northern and southern areas of the West Bank have forced Israeli Defense Force (IDF) to engage in a three-front war along its Northern, Eastern and Western border. Protesters backed by Hamas have been attacking Israeli settlements in Tulkarm, Ramallah, Hebron and Nablus. There had been reports of an Israeli soldier killed by the protestors, leading to IDF house demolition operation in AlAmri refugee camp. On its western frontier with Gaza strip, IDF has been confronting Palestinian refugees on the protest, for opening up borders and unification with the West Bank. To its northern borders with Lebanon and Syria, IDF launched Operation Northern Shield, in order to identify and destroy underground tunnels and Hezbollah strongholds using airstrikes.
  • The commemoration of Land Day to celebrate the events of March 30, 1976, led to a mass congregation of Palestinian refugees along the Gaza-Israel border, requiring the deployment of IDF soldiers along the separation barrier. However, this led to the diversion of focus from protests and attacks on Israeli settlements taking place in Northern, Central and Southern parts of West Bank, making it hard for IDF to coordinate on both the fronts. The chances of escalation remain high. The overall security situation of the region remained worse, as the ongoing civil war in Syria, have caused the development of Hezbollah’s logistics and supply hub along Golan Heights. Having sensed a possibility of an imminent attack by Israeli forces, Lebanon has been mobilizing field guns to its southern borders. The above developments led to the launching of Operation Northern Shield by IDF, so as to destroy the overland structures and underground tunnels through a combination of airstrikes and mobilization of land troops.
    • The protest marches and attacks by Palestinians on Israeli soldiers and Israeli settlement will continue, given the political situation prevailing in West Bank. While Israeli troops have so far been successful in suppressing the protests, an internal power struggle among Palestinian political faction will fuel anger against Israelis and may result in occasional attacks in Israeli settlements located among Palestinian households.

3. The rise of Right-Wing Nationalism in Israel

  • Over last few weeks local media have reported an increasing trend of hate-based crimes perpetrated by Jewish Israelis living in Jewish settlements among Palestinian households in various parts of the West Bank. This trend was further confirmed by an independent poll conducted by the Israeli Democracy Institute in which the majority of Jews preferred to have a companion, neighbors, and colleagues from the Jewish faith and household. Calls from prominent Israeli political leaders for building new settlements, along with a host of recent decisions by Israel’s Supreme court on the legitimacy of the existing settlements in the West Bank areas, have been a catalyzing factor.
  • Since, passing of Jewish Nation-State law by the Knesset, with degradation of Arabic language to a special status, there has been a developing trend of racism among Jewish communities residing in the West Bank. On November 30, Israeli supreme court ruled in favor of Gush Etzion settlers thereby ending a 22-year legal battle. Soon after that on 2nd December, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein called for expansion of Israeli settlements across West Bank. Also, on 3rd December, the Israeli government approved $187 million for development and support to Jewish settlers along the border with Gaza. The chain of events has been reinforcing the systematic state-based support for the promotion of Jewish first sidelining Arab-Israelis and non-Jewish Israelis.
  • In light of recent political and judicial decisions, it is expected that the race-based attacks will be increased in the future. While right-wing Israelis will certainly attack Palestinian protestors along Jewish settlements, there’s a high chance of Non-Jewish and Arab-Israelis may face racial attacks both verbal and physical in different parts of Israel.

4. Emerging Israel-Saudi Arabia relationship

  • The bilateral relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel has been on upward swing driven by mutual interests with the change in regional power politics. Iran and its affiliated groups such as Hezbollah can be credited for the new entente cordiale between two former regional opponents. There have been reports regarding the sell of Pegasus espionage software by Israel to Saudi Arabia through its shell companies. It has been reported Israel has been using chemical products manufactured by Saudi Arabia based company in its settlements in Salfit Governorate. In the absence of complaints from fellow Arab states, keen to develop a relationship with Israel has given Saudi Arabia free hand to elevate itself in Pan-Middle Eastern politics.
  • Over last few years, the emergence of Iran as a regional power with a strong military force, and its ability to influencing military operations beyond its borders in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq have caused worry among Gulf states. Hence in an attempt to bridge the power and technology gap, they have been desperately courting allies from around the corner. With receding U.S influence in the Middle East and the emergence of Russia as a balancing element both in economic and military terms in the regional power politics, Gulf states such as UAE and Saudi Arabia have been developing their bilateral relationship with Israel, so as to maintain an upper hand.
  • Hence in the context of above development, the strategic cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia will continue to grow in the future. While Saudi Arabian aid to the Palestinian Authority will continue to exist, there are chances of the violent edge of armed struggle led by Hamas will face problems

Recommendations

  1. We advise against all non-essential travels to areas in the West Bank at this time due to an uptick in violence and threat against Non-Jewish, Arab Israelis, and Jewish Israelis.
  2. In the light of recent hate-based crimes, Foreign corporations operating either in parts of Israel or in areas close to West Bank have advised increase security of their premises and personnel.
  3. Avoid all kinds of travel to Tulkarm, Ramallah, Nablus, and Hebron due to the potential for violence by Palestinian protestors supported by Hamas, and its militia groups. Night time travel in the above areas should be avoided at any cost.
  4. Non-Jewish foreigners traveling in Israel must avoid moving around during Night hours due to the potential for hate-based crimes.
  5. Avoid the immediate vicinities of government buildings, police stations, media outlet offices, Israeli settlements, and Palestinian households, given that these areas have been frequently targeted by militia groups and protestors.

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