Inside the Middle East – Intelligence Perspectives
Immediate Intelligence Bulletin
Palestinian Campaign – The March of Return:
Towards a Burst of Major Israeli – Palestinian Violence?
March 29, 2018
The Palestinians have announced the launching of a The March of Return campaign, consisting of a series of protests and demonstrations centered in the Gaza Strip, and also planned to a lesser extent in the areas ruled by the Palestinian Authority in West Bank.
The campaign is expected to kick-off on March 30, 2018 – reaching its pinnacle on May 14, 2018, the date which reportedly the US Embassy will formally be moved to Jerusalem coinciding with the date the State of Israel was established (1948).
The campaign is steered by a framework called The National Authority of the March of Return, composed of the major Palestinian political entities.
Reportedly, as part of the campaign, Palestinians plan to form large demonstrations in proximity to the Israeli – Gaza Strip border. A Palestinian spokesperson of The National Authority of the March of Return announced that the protests will be peaceful, and that Palestinians will keep a distance of 700 yards from the Israeli – Gaza border. Yet, Israel expresses concern with the possibility that Palestinians will try to storm the border fence and infiltrate Israeli territory. Israel is thus taking massive preparations on its side to prevent such a scenario.
The Palestinian political parties which comprise The National Authority of the March of Return are: Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad in Palestine (IJIP), the Palestinian Peoples’ Party (PPP), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). These factors represent the wide Palestinian political spectrum – ranging from the Islamic Camp (Hamas and IJIP) to Fatah to the Leftist, Secular forces (PPP, PFLP).
The Islamist factors and the left wing secular affiliated Palestinian groups’ agendas and ideology are conflicting. The two most central and major Palestinian factors involved in the campaign – Hamas and Fatah – are on collision track.
One thus may wonder what bring those factors to join hands?
The answer is that the campaign represents the intersection of the Palestinian consensual narrative known as “the right of return of Palestinian refugees.”
Thus, on one level, forming The National Authority of the March of Return presents a Palestinian façade of unity and consensus. However, on a deeper level, the formation of The National Authority of the March of Return should be viewed in the context of inner Palestinian politics – and particularity in the context of the power struggle between the two major Palestinian factors – Hamas and The Palestinian Authority.
The March of Return campaign presents a challenge to both Hamas and the PA – as it may deteriorate into a massive burst of violence, a scenario both Hamas and the PA currently prefer to avoid given their individual domestic challenges as well as their different – and sometimes conflicting, interests.
The framework of The National Authority of the March of Return enables Hamas and the PA to manage the characteristics and course of the campaign, as well as minimizing the risk of losing control over the campaign on the hand, and depriving each other political dividends on the other hand.
To the best of my evaluation, at the current point in time – due to their interests and calculations – both Hamas and the PA intend to avoid a large-scale collision with Israel. Thus, the two largest Palestinian factors will likely manage the campaign within confined locations in the framework of legitimate civil protest.
That being said, one should expect that the Palestinian campaign kick-off scheduled for March 30th could be encompassed with violent incidents in the area of Gaza border as well as the Israeli – Palestinian touch points in the West Bank. It is also possible that incidents of friction and violence will take place in areas of Israeli – Arab communities.
Assuming such incidents will be local, confined in scale, ramifications, and results – particularly in the context of number of Palestinian fatalities, the probability of violent incidents spinning out of control which will turn into a massive Israeli – Palestinian collision – particularity in the Gaza Strip is low, at least during the opening phase of the Palestinian campaign.