US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s tour of Egypt, Israel and the Occupied Territories this week was turned into a salvaging mission, coming just days after a spate of violence erupted in Jenin refugee camp and in East Jerusalem, during which tens of Palestinians and Israelis were killed. So explosive has the situation between Israel and the Palestinians become that, as Blinken called for de-escalation on Monday, clashes were taking place all over the West Bank.
Blinken’s visit was scheduled before Israeli soldiers stormed Jenin camp last week, killing nine Palestinians. A day later, a lone Palestinian youth from East Jerusalem attacked and killed seven Israelis, apparently in retaliation. On Saturday, a 13-year-old Palestinian resident of Silwan shot and injured two Israeli settlers in the Arab neighborhood. Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right ministers were quick to promise harsher measures against Palestinians, even those who are citizens of Israel.
Blinken’s attempt to convince Netanyahu to contain his far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is waging open war on the Palestinians, will be short-lived. Ben-Gvir is calling for the arming of all Jewish settlers; an easing of the army’s rules of engagement when confronting Palestinian protests; the death penalty for those convicted of killing Israelis; the sealing off of houses of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and expanding the policy of demolitions; and the withdrawal of citizenship from the families of those associated with “terror” attacks. He also wants to pass a law allowing the expulsion of Arab Knesset members who support the resistance against occupation. He has the support of other Cabinet ministers and a majority of Knesset members.
So, it was ironic that, while Blinken was telling Netanyahu that there is a need to improve the lives of Palestinians and take steps toward implementing the two-state solution, Israeli soldiers were storming Nablus, Hebron, Shuafat and Mukaber, and blockading Jericho, while Jewish settlers were carrying out revenge attacks. Thirty-five had been reported by noon on Monday, including torching Palestinians’ cars and homes and cutting off roads.
If Blinken is unable to put pressure on the Israelis, he must do so with the Palestinians. Before he met President Mahmoud Abbas, CIA Director William Burns was in Ramallah on Sunday, apparently to convince the Palestinians to restore security coordination with Israel – the only thing left of the Oslo Accords that Israel recognizes – and to warn Abbas not to pursue the path of applying for membership of additional international organizations.
Blinken’s visit to Israel, the first since Netanyahu formed the most extremist government in Israel’s history, was supposed to preempt any escalation between Israel and the Palestinians, especially before the holy month of Ramadan. But Netanyahu’s far-right partners had other plans. For Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, escalation was an immediate goal in order to implement their election promises. These included expanding settlements, ending the historical status quo at Al-Aqsa Mosque and the complete Judaization of East Jerusalem by getting rid of the city’s indigenous Arab residents. Naturally, there is no room for a Palestinian state in their view or that of those who voted for them.
The question is for how long can Netanyahu – who is facing an unprecedented popular backlash for backing controversial judicial reforms that are seen as undemocratic – keep his far-right ministers under control? He needs the coalition to stay intact until the reforms, which will end judicial oversight and bring his trial for corruption to a close, are passed. To deflect attention from the growing public opposition to his government, an opportunistic Netanyahu has no qualms about allowing his maverick ministers to instigate a crisis with the Palestinians in the West Bank or even Gaza. Surely, following last weekend’s bloody events, the number of Israelis protesting his government on Saturday dropped by more than half.
While the Biden administration can only pay lip service to the cause of peace and a two-state solution, the reality is that it has no stomach to push for a resumption of political talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The White House is focused on the war in Ukraine and containing Russia, while it will allow Israel to engage the Iranians through clandestine operations. Besides, in a few months, the US will become embroiled in next year’s presidential election and the White House will become indifferent to whatever Netanyahu and his goons end up doing.
The fact is that the coming months will be the most dangerous for the Palestinians in a long time. A hawkish Israeli government will be bent on breaking the Palestinian will in any way it can. It will trample on international law and cast aside any criticism or rebuke from any side. The Palestinians, on the other hand, will have no one to turn to. Ironically, after more than 55 years of brutal occupation, Israel has failed to subjugate the Palestinian people or force them to surrender. This time will be no different. It is a zero-sum formula whose results will never change. All that is happening in reality is that Israel itself is changing from the inside and is shedding its democratic facade to reveal its real soul.
Courtesy Arab News