Avi Melamed ~ Inside The Middle East
Between Saturday, May 4th and the ceasefire on Monday, May 6th nearly 700 rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip and Israel struck hundreds of targets in the Gaza Strip.
As it seems as if another Israeli-Palestinian military round has come to an end, here are some perspectives I would like to share with you:
Hamas governs the Gaza Strip and is the largest military power in Gaza. Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya – The Islamic Resistance Movement). Hamas, an Islamic Palestinian organization, officially describes itself as the branch of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Palestine and opposes the existence of the state of Israel.
The early May round of violence was initiated by the Islamic Jihad in Palestine (IJIP), the 2nd largest military power in the Gaza Strip.
IJIP is an Islamic Militant organization that violently opposes the existence of Israel. Both Hamas and IJIP are backed and supported and by Iran. Unofficial estimates put Iranian financing of IJIP at tens of millions of dollars a year. Hamas and IJIP cooperate in their military actions against Israel. However, particularly over the last year IJIP has been independently launching rockets on Israel without consulting or coordinating with Hamas.
The events of the past weekend validate my March 2019 prediction, that IJIP, has an increasing ability to independently dictate further escalation, and to shape and impact the course of events – even if it means dragging Hamas into a military round that Hamas might not be currently interested in. (Here is link to that article: https://www.avimelamed.com/2019/03/29/highly-flammable-situation-in-gaza/)
Going forward, IJIP’s abilities to independently initiate attacks on Israel – as I will demonstrate – will be a crucial factor.
Is the most recent Israeli-Palestinian military round a prelude to a bigger confrontation?
It is my estimation that the chance of a massive Israeli-Palestinian collision over the next few weeks is unlikely. One reason is the Muslim month of Ramadan which began on May 6. During Ramadan Muslims rest during the day and eat and celebrate with friends and family at night. It is also a good time for the economy because consumers purchasing increases during Ramadan – people buy food, clothes, gifts, etc.
In my analysis, the next major flash-point for a significant rise in tensions which could lead to a wider Israeli-Palestinian war will be in early June when President Trump will reportedly release his plan to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – commonly referred to in the Middle East as “The Deal of The Century.”
Although Trump’s plan has yet to be published, there is already robust and absolute wall-to-wall objection to the plan among Palestinians. It does seem to be clear that the proposal does not reflect the core Palestinian narratives. Though details are not confirmed, it is not expected to address their core concerns: It does not call for the establishment of a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital; It leaves Israeli settlements (though apparently not all) in the West Bank; and it does not address the Palestinian “Right of Return” (Haq al-‘Awdah) – the demand to allow all Palestinian refugees and their descendants the right to come and live in Israel.
Not only does President Trump’s plan not reflect the Palestinians core narratives and demands; it takes place at a time when the Palestinians are at rock-bottom for a number of reasons:
Changing Priorities of the Arab States
First, the increasing domestic and regional struggles Arab States are facing has resulted in a steady decline of the Palestinian issue as a top priority for the Arab world. Therefore, in the eyes and hearts of the Palestinians they feel they have been abandoned by their own brothers.
The Inner Palestinian Split
Second, the inner-Palestinian rift between the Islamist Hamas (which governs Gaza) and the Palestinian Authority (which governs parts of the West Bank) is deepening.
A major controversial issue among Palestinians centers around the concept of Al- Muqawamah – “The Resistance.” In the Palestinian lexicon, there are two versions of Al-Muqawamah.
“The Armed Resistance” advocated by Hamas, IJIP and some other Palestinian organizations, maintains that violence is the only way to eliminate Israel. According to this ideology there are no concessions, no compromises, no negotiations – Israel must be eliminated using violence. Recognizing the power of this concept in the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, Iran used this slogan to expand its power throughout the Middle East – and beyond. Under the banner of “The Resistance” Iran built and cultivates a network of allies and proxies such as Hamas, IJIP, Hezbollah etc. all dedicated to the cause.
“The Civil Resistance” advocated by Palestinian President and leader of the Fatah Party (Harakat al-Tahrir al-Watani al-Filastini) – a Palestinian national organization and the largest party within the Palestinian Authority, maintains that “Civil Resistance” and diplomatic efforts in international forums is the most effective way to force Israel to accept Palestinian demands.
Hamas argues that Abbas’ strategy of “Civil Resistance” and diplomatic activity on the world stage has totally failed. Hamas argues that Abbas – also known as Abu Mazen – has betrayed the Palestinian cause.
Abbas argues that Hamas’ “Armed Resistance” has dragged Gaza Strip to chaos, havoc, and despair while damaging – perhaps irreversibly – the Palestinian unity. Indeed, Abbas is not alone in that view; major Arab States – Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt hold Hamas accountable for the dire situation in Gaza.
In 2007 Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in a bloody coup in which it overthrew the Palestinian Authority and killed hundreds of Palestinians. The Palestinian inner-split, and the repeated failures of the two sides to reconcile, further emphasizes the lack of Palestinian unity and further deepens sentiments of frustration and despair among Palestinians. Many Palestinians doubt the deepening and widening rift can be bridged.
The anticipated Trump plan will shine the spotlight on the inner-Palestinian split and will further push the two major Palestinian bitter rivals – Hamas and Fatah – into the center of the ring.
And this will bring the ideological and political rivalry between the two to a pivotal moment.
The actions and position Hamas and Fatah take in response to President Trump’s plan could define which one of the two will capture the Palestinian throne – and that could define the path ahead and shape the future for the Palestinians.
Therefore, once the Trump plan is revealed, both Hamas and the PA, will carefully calculate their moves and actions – and at the same time they will constantly keep a very close watch on each other’s move.
On the one hand, neither Hamas nor the Palestinian Authority would like to be viewed in the domestic Palestinian arena as the one who failed to fight for the Palestinian cause at such a critical moment. On the other hand, neither Hamas nor Fatah want to be viewed as the one whose actions and moves deepened the Palestinian’s dire situation.
When it comes to the Trump plan – both Hamas and the PA have one common denominator. They both must calculate their moves very carefully taking into account a myriad of domestic and international issues including how their response will impact: Their longevity as a governing body (the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza); Their ideology; Their legacy. Given the fact that the plan will likely not be the deal the Palestinians want – both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority will have a lot to lose and a lot to gain – in a multitude of arenas – from their respective responses. And that decision will not be easy for either.
And that brings us back to the Islamic Jihad in Palestine (IJIP).
Different from Hamas and the PA, IJIP has no dilemmas or political or practical calculations to make or consider. IJIP does not need to think about its political endurance, nor its responsibilities as a governing body. IJIP doesn’t view itself in the context of an historical responsibility. Ideologically and operationally, IJIP sees violence as the only way to fulfill the Palestinian narrative and demands. IJIP not only sees its way as the right way – in IJIP’s ideology, their path is the clearer and more decisive strategy compared to Hamas and Fatah. Therefore, for IJIP, violence as a response to President Trump’s plan is not an option – it is the only right thing to do.
And to add into the mix there is Iran, who – as stated in the beginning – massively supports IJIP.
At this point in time, Iran has a strong interest in an all out massive Israeli-Palestinian war – which might include the West Bank. There are a few reasons that this would benefit Iran at this particular time:
Iran’s retaliation for US sanctions;
It will boost Iran’s clam that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and not Iran – is the source of instability in the Middle East – a message that does not lack a receptive audience in the West;
It will divert attention from arenas like Syria, Iraq, and Yemen – just some of the areas in which Iran is proactively and aggressively expanding and entrenching its influence as part of the Mullah regime’s regional hegemonic vision which King Abdullah II calls the “Shiite Crescent”.
The summer of 2019 will be apparently hot…
Avi Melamed is the President & CEO of Inside The Middle East: Intelligence Perspectives, training leaders and future leaders to independently and accurately decipher the Middle East.