Avi Melamed ~ Inside The Middle East
In this short article, I would like to explore a couple of aspects of Israel, possibly annexing/applying Israel sovereignty in parts of the area known as The West Bank / The Occupied Territories / Judea & Samaria.
One: What will Israeli do?
Two: What will be the Palestinian reaction in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip?
Three: How will regional players respond?
What Will Israel Do?
If Israel does move towards annexation / applying Israeli sovereignty, it will be in my evaluation limited and will include one of the Israeli “Consensus” Settlements in the West Bank.
A “Consensus” settlement is a Jewish community or city over “the Green Line” (the Ceasefire Armistice Line that separated and Jordan and Israel from 1948 to 1967) that generally everyone across the Israeli political spectrum (excluding the left) accepts will be formally included in Israel as part of any agreement. The concept of Consensus settlements is also silently accepted by the international community. The consensus settlements are from north to south – Alfei Menashe, Ariel, Modi’in Elite, Ma’ale Adumim, Beitar Elit, and Gush Etzion (Please click here to see a map **). All of these are large communities with tens of thousands of residents.
In my estimation, if Israel does annex or apply sovereignty anywhere – it will choose Ma’aleh Adumim. Ma’aleh Adumin is a city of 50,000 people located ten-minutes from Jerusalem. It is on the major highway connecting Jerusalem with the Dead Sea and the Jordan valley – Israel’s eastern border. And, as I said above, it is widely accepted that the city will be part of Israel in any arrangement with the Palestinians.
And speaking of the Israeli Jordanian border, one issue discussed is Israel possibly annexing the Jordan Valley.
King Abdullah II of Jordan has expressed strong objection to Israel unilaterally making a move – let alone annexing – the Jordan Valley. On top of the many challenges, Jordan faces, Islamist and non-Islamist circles in Jordan are putting a lot of pressure on King Abdullah II to abolish the 1994 Peace Agreement with Israel. If Israel annexes the Jordan Valley, it will play to the hands of these circles and increase the pressure on the King.
The Jordan Valley is part of the 200-mile-long Israeli Jordanian 200 border. The border with Jordan is Israel’s longest border. The truth is that Israel and Jordan share one major common interest in respect to their shared border – and particularly the Jordan Valley. Both Israel and Jordan want Israel to continue (as it does today), securing the Israeli Jordanian border. This serves both country’s security needs and strategic objectives.
Hence, Israeli “annexation” or “sovereignty” in the Jordan Valley is counterproductive to both sides. And therefore, in my assessment, Israel will not annex/apply sovereignty in the Jordan Valley.
Will Israeli actions act result in an outbreak of widespread violence in the West Bank and/or in the Gaza strip?
On July 2, 2020, a senior Fatah official, Jibril Rajoub (currently the Chairman of the Palestinian Football Association and former Head of Palestinian Palestine Intercepting Intelligence Force), and a senior Hamas official, Saleh al-‘Arouri held a live press conference. In this rare act, both announced that the two organizations have agreed to join hands to fight possible Israeli annexation/sovereignty.
However, reading between the lines of that statement, as well as other independent statements made by both Palestinian governments, the Palestinian Authority who rules parts of the West Bank, and Hamas, who rules the Gaza Strip, suggest that they are reluctant to initiate massive violence.
The reason for that is the fact that the Palestinians and the Palestinian cause – domestically, regionally, and internationally are at an all-time low due to the following:
Domestically, the Palestinians are tired. They are tired of decades of violence. There is a sense of despair and a reticence to initiate yet another round of violence that will likely make their situation worse. Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have thus far come through COVID-19 relatively unscathed. So far, eleven people have died from the Coronavirus in the West Bank, and one person succumbed to the disease in the Gaza Strip. However, the ramifications of the pandemic and the expected second wave threaten the relative economic stability of the Palestinians in the West Bank, and to a lesser extent, in the Gaza Strip as well. An outburst of extensive violence when Palestinians are struggling to secure income for themselves and their families will lead to the collapse of Palestinian society. It will backfire on both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to the point that they might lose control, which could lead to the end of their rule.
Regionally, the Palestinian cause continues to be pushed aside in the Arab world and particularity the leading Arab countries – Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf Monarchies. The Arab states are contending with their own severe social and economic challenges. Struggling economies, political tensions, social unrest, violence, plummeting oil prices, just to name a few. Lebanon is on the verge of total collapse. Iraq is struggling to gain internal stability. Libya, Syria, and Yemen are ruined following years of continuous wars. And the challenges Arab countries have at home are in addition to the battles they wage to stave off the increasingly aggressive Iranian and Turkish actions and provocations in the region.
The inner-split between Hamas, who rules Gaza, and Fatah (the largest party in the Palestinian Authority who rules the Gaza Strip) is yet another reason for the fact that the Palestinians and the Palestinian issue have been downgraded on the Arab world’s agenda. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are tired of continuing to try and broker a reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. All of the investments and diplomatic efforts they have pursued to bring the two together have only resulted in reconciliation agreements that have not been followed through by the competing Palestinian governments. Given this, the July 2nd joint statement issued by Rajoub and al-‘Arouri should be viewed very skeptically. In 2007, Hamas violently eliminated the Palestinian Authority government in Gaza. Hundreds of Palestinians were killed in the violent takeover and the ensuing clashes between Hamas and Fatah forces in Gaza. The ideological and political gap between the two is unbridgeable. Hamas wants to duplicate the Gaza coup in the West Bank. Therefore, the Palestinian Authority consistently, determinedly – and often very aggressively – restrains Hamas members and Hamas’ activities in the West Bank. The Palestinians, and the Arabs, in general, have stopped counting the number of times Hamas and Fatah have announced that they are opening a new page and joining hands. I find it hard to believe that their skeptical outlook will change this time.
Furthermore, when it comes to the Hamas specifically, Egypt and the Arab Gulf Monarchies (excluding Qatar and Oman) resent Hamas’ alliance with Iran, Turkey, and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Arab leaders – including Saudi King Salman and Egyptian President Abd al-Fatah al-Sisi – say that they will support any decision the Palestinians make regarding the conflict. However, there is growing criticism in the Arab world of what is viewed as the Palestinians unwillingness to adopt a pragmatic approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In the international arena, the global community is focused on the challenges and ramifications of COVID-19. They have their own economic problems and are struggling with growing domestic political tensions and turbulence. The Palestinians, therefore, cannot expect the international community to shift its focus to carry the torch for the Palestinian cause.
Given those facts, I anticipate the Palestinians will work hard on the world stage. They will leverage their relationships with other countries and international institutions to either penalize Israel for their actions or prevent Israel from increasing their control in the West Bank.
I do believe we will witness mass protests and demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza. These will likely lead to skirmishes of varying intensity between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces on the Israeli-Gaza border fence, the areas where Jewish and Arab communities “rub shoulders” either in the West Bank or Jerusalem. I also expect the situation in some Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem to be tense, and we will likely see pockets of violence in East Jerusalem.
Will there be a large-scale military confrontation?
The two major Palestinian powers in the Gaza Strip – Hamas, who governs the Gaza Strip and the Islamic Jihad in Palestine (IJIP) – along with other small Islamist groups in Gaza (who present a negligible military threat to Israel) are committed to the concept of eliminating Israel through violence.
Islamic Jihad in Palestine (IJIP) is the second-largest military power in Gaza after Hamas. Historically, Hamas and IJIP have coordinated their attacks on Israel. However, over the past few years, the IJIP has begun to operate more independently. More than once, IJIP has single-handedly launched missiles and rockets on Israeli communities, thus dragging Hamas into short military rounds with Israel at times where Hamas would have preferred to lay low. IJIP can wreak its own havoc without Hamas’ permission or without having to consider the ramifications on the people of Gaza that Hamas – who governs Gaza, must consider. The fact that IJIP independently launches attacks on Israel has heightened the level of tensions between IJIP and Hamas.
That being said, I estimate that Hamas and IJIP will coordinate the character and scale of their military response to an Israeli act of annexation/sovereignty. I evaluate that their response will be cautiously calculated to avoid a deterioration that could lead to a protracted military collision with Israel. By working together to strategize and synchronize their response – assuming their response will not result in an extensive military round with Israel – Hamas and IJIP could achieve the following goals:
Convey the message that they are committed to their core value of fighting Israel.
Show that the two organizations are communicating, cooperating, and working together.
Embarrass the Palestinian Authority by portraying the PA as weak and incapable of fighting for the Palestinian cause.
Also, I expect other small militant Islamist groups in Gaza to launch attacks on Israel as well. But in my estimation, they will be limited.
The caveat to all of the above is that there is always the risk of unintended consequences and events spinning out control. That is always a possibility we must consider.
I expect the Arab response to be mostly on the diplomatic level.
I expect the Arab League will meet and pass a resolution condemning the Israeli actions.
I expect statements by Foreign Affairs Ministers of Arab countries. The Arab response will likely condemn any unilateral Israeli act, describe it as “destabilizing,” and emphasize the peace initiative of the late Saudi King Abdullah as the right blueprint for an agreement.
Jordan will possibly call back its Ambassador for “consultation.”
Egypt, the second country besides Jordan, to have a peace treaty with Israel, will probably be satisfied with some general Arab condemnation.
One should note that the moving of the US Embassy to Jerusalem in May 2018 and the United States’ recognition of Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan Heights, went almost unnoted in Arab streets. I estimate history will repeat itself and that there will be a minimal reaction on the Arab street.
Some argue Israel’s unilateral steps will harm the evolving rapprochement between Israel and the Arab Gulf monarchies. In my estimation, this is not a concern, given the fact Arab Gulf monarchies do not have formal relations with Israel. Officially, I expect the Gulf monarchies will support the official Arab statements and positions. Yet, in my assessment, it will not harm the pragmatic and increasing cooperation between the Gulf countries and Israel, which revolves around issues of mutual strategic interests, such as blocking the Iranian threat.
Two non-Arab regional players – Turkey and Iran, portray themselves as the defenders of the Palestinians and the Palestinian cause. Turkey’s President Erdogan and the Iranian mullah regime use the Israeli Palestinian Conflict as a pawn to harvest popularity and political dividends in the Muslim world and the Arab world particularly. They also present Arab leaders who betray the mission of “liberating Palestine” as being incompetent. It is in the interest of Erdogan and the Iranian mullah regime and their allies and proxies for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to continue and to escalate. Thus, neither misses any opportunity to further fuel the flames of the conflict. Therefore, for their own reasons – none of which have anything to do with the welfare of the Palestinians – I except fiery and robust Turkish and Iranian rhetoric rejecting and rebuking Israeli actions and chanting narratives and slogans including “Palestine is all Muslim, “no one has the right to give up Islamic soil,” etc.
In my January 2020 article entitled “Trump’s Plan – Regional Reactions & Initial Observations” I challenged the argument that President Trump’s “Peace for Prosperity” plan was insignificant. Instead, I argued the proposal was significant for two primary reasons:
- Compared to previous Western initiatives, the US plan reflects a more updated dialogue with the realities that exist on the ground.
- Trump’s plan marks the end of the paradigm that has dominated previous Western diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. President Trump changes the trajectory of the discussion because it creates a new US baseline on several issues. Related to the subject at hand, Trump’s proposal clearly states that Israeli annexation/sovereignty as a fait-accompli. It is not “if” but rather “what will be the scale.” The current conversation marks a significant change in a path towards arrangements.
And I often say, solving conflicts in the Middle East is not about “peace.” It is about agreements and understandings that are made and must be adjusted from time to time. This is particularly true in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
** Please Note: The map is from the website of Peace Now. The reason I am using their map is because it is user friendly and offers an accurate picture of the communities on the ground. However, using their map does not necessarily reflect my political outlook, nor does it aim to lobby for any political point of view.