The MED This Week newsletter provides expert analysis and informed insights on the most significant developments in the MENA region, bringing together unique opinions on the topic and reliable foresight on future scenarios. Today, we focus on East Jerusalem, where protests over the expulsion of Palestinian families have ignited the most intense escalation between Israel and Palestine since 2014.
Following weeks of tension, the situation in East Jerusalem escalated as several Palestinian families risked being evicted from their homes in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The scheduled annual celebration of Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem — known as Jerusalem Day — provoked a harrowing confrontation between Palestinians and Israeli police forces in the religious compound around Al-Aqsa Mosque, in the Old City of Jerusalem, while a crucial court ruling on the fate of some Palestinian families living in the Sheikh Jarrah area was postponed due to the unrest. Over the last few days, Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets at several towns in Israel (including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Beersheba) in retaliation for the clashes between Israeli police forces and Palestinians in Jerusalem. In response, Israel has carried out multiple air raids targeting Hamas’ facilities and leaders in Gaza. As the death toll soars on both sides, the ongoing escalation accounts for the most violent exchange between Israel and Hamas in years. The international community has called for both factions to de-escalate. On the one hand, the White House recognized the Israeli right to defense over the attacks whilst putting pressure on Tel Aviv over the treatment of Palestinians. On the other hand, reactions from the region were not unanimous. While countries such as Turkey and Jordan firmly condemned Israel’s behaviour, those who had previously normalized their relations with Israel in the “Abraham Accords” framework opted for less vocal stances. Despite international calls, the future of the escalation appears uncertain. As the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, warned, the situation is “escalating towards a full-scale war.”
Experts from the ISPI MED network react to the spiral of violence unfolding in Palestine and Israel.
Jerusalem is the first victim
“Jerusalem is the first victim, the first consequence of the military escalation between Hamas and the Netanyahu government. As soon as the armed attack/counterattack dynamics started, Jerusalem has been put past the reach of the media mainstream and the international actors’ worries. Sheykh Jarrah forced evictions, Israeli police stun grenades inside the Al Aqsa Mosque, the crackdown on peaceful protesters at Damascus Gate are already far memories, that anyway will soon come back if not addressed. Today more than ever, Hamas’ narrative is – again – based on its undertaking the responsibility to protect Jerusalem as a Palestinian national and unifying symbol, meanwhile trying to embezzle the independent, non-factional protest movement. Hamas conceives an easy political gain, since it was extremely weak the PA’s response on the Israeli police crackdown on the Palestinian Jerusalemites’ claim for civil rights. Netanyahu already benefited from the military escalation, as the armed confrontation with Hamas forced his antagonists, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, to slow down the consultations on the next Israeli government. Palestinian factions’ rocket attacks on Central Israel are de facto postponing until further notice the moment Netanyahu will step down.”
Paola Caridi, Journalist and Author, invisiblearabs.com
New leaderships to change the paradigm
“Future escalations between Israel and Gaza can be prevented via reunification between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, under a moderate leadership, and via progress towards a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Achieving this requires: (1) political will, that may exist only when new leaders emerge on both sides; (2) increased interaction between pro-peace Israeli and Palestinian civil society actors; and (3) new modalities of international involvement – including updated multilateral mediation structures and policy proposals. The formation of a different government in Israel, without Netanyahu as prime minister, is crucial. Although it will still include right-wing parties, it will also bring to positions of power ministers and parties supportive of the two-state solution.”
Nimrod Goren, Founder and Head, The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies (Mitvim)
The Palestinians’ lack of political horizon
“According to the polls before the postponement – perhaps the cancellation – of the legislative elections, the majority of the Palestinians in Gaza, ruled by Hamas, declared to choose Fatah. On the opposite, those in the West Bank, under the Fatah's Palestinian Authority, liked Hamas. It seems to be a clear rejection of their own ruling party, whatever. Is the escalation of violence in Jerusalem and elsewhere due to this? No, the sources of Palestinian anxiety are many. But yes, this is one of the most important. While they are locked in the Israeli cage, the political horizon for the people in Ramallah is stagnation, and for those in Gaza are the Kassams.”
Ugo Tramballi, Senior Advisor, ISPI
The international community’s options pass from demanding equality and respect on human rights
“There is only one way the international community can prevent escalations like this from reoccurring: hold Israel accountable for its endless subjugation and dispossession of Palestinians. Israel is accustomed to the blasé statements of condemnation from the international community, which have only fostered a culture of impunity and encouraged policies aimed at maximalist ambitions. If allowed to prevail, a negotiated solution will be impossible, and instability and conflict will continually resurge. The international community can start by demanding Israel to respect human rights and international law. It can also uphold the principle of equality now, irrespective of citizenship and any future political arrangement. Palestinians should not live without basic human rights because the two sides cannot come to terms on how to share sovereignty over the Holy Land.”
Omar Rahman, Visiting Fellow, Brookings Doha Center
Palestine, still a priority for all the Arab countries?
“Finally, it has transpired that the Abraham Accords, which were presented as instrumental in bringing peace to the Middle East, did not fulfil their promise. On the contrary, what we are witnessing in these very days and hours shows their fundamental weakness: albeit presented as instrumental for acquiring leverage vis-à-vis Israel, they actually led to the erasure of the “land for peace” principle. There are many drivers for this recent crisis, including Arab countries diplomatically rewarding Israel without asking for the recognition of Palestinians’ rights in return. Palestine may no longer be in these countries’ foreign policy priorities, but the whole region will not enjoy real peace, stability, and prosperity until the latter will be shared.”
Annalisa Perteghella, Research Fellow, ISPI