Over the past 20 years the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been put in the background, not to say almost avoided, within Israel's political and public debate. Undoubtedly this was one consequence of the fact that the Oslo Process culminated with the half-failure of the Camp David summit. Even more, however, the debate was watered down by the attitude of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who made ambiguity and the status-quo the guidelines defining his position on the Palestinian issue.
That some of the Gulf monarchies, in the past few years, have been quietly but surely interested in normalising relations with Israel, is no longer much of a secret. A convergence of geopolitical visions and interests have encouraged some warming up to the Israeli leadership, first and foremost Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in some Gulf capitals.
Among many things Israel’s political rivals disagree about, Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz were brought together to form an emergency government after a third election was held inMarch 2020. The annexation of lands in the Palestinian West Bank was one issue they fundamentally agree about based on their coalition deal. The repercussions of this bold decision can be disastrous for all stakeholders.
Starting from July 1st, Israel was expected to initiate the annexation of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, in what would be a major – and highly controversial – act. Detailed in US President Donald Trump’s “Middle East plan” released in January, the move was announced as part of the agreement that returned Benjamin Netanyahu to office as head of Israel’s national unity government in May. Questions are mounting over whether Israel may delay the deadline for annexation.
With the new coalition government taking office in Israel, the Israeli annexation of some West Bank’s territories might become a reality starting from July 1. This initiative, which entails the extension of Israeli sovereignty on crucial areas such as the Jordan Valley and the northern shore of the Dead Sea, has raised widespread regional and international condemnation.
The coronavirus continues to represent a significant danger to an already fragile Gaza Strip. So far, infection rates remain low – thanks in large part to concerted efforts by local authorities and international organisations. But the biggest challenge may still be to come as the virus threatens to exasperate a manmade socio-economic and humanitarian crisis. For Hamas, this will require it to balance its competing roles as both resistance movement and de facto government of the Strip.
The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in Palestine has exposed its structural vulnerability in a context of occupation. Events are still unfolding, but there is great concern that COVID-19 may severely affect Palestinian society, possibly causing a devastating sanitary, economic, and political crisis.
President Donald Trump’s peace plan has been met with wall-to-wall opposition from Palestinians who see it as a denial of their aspirations for sovereign statehood. Many feel that it instead formalises a one state reality of open-ended occupation and unequal rights that they are currently living. Beyond the considerable anger and frustration that US actions have produced, it still seems like business as usual for Palestinians.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Emirates, three close allies, are building a new regional security order and want Israel on board. The Gulf countries need it for countering Iran, Egypt needs it for the Mediterranean’s security. Nevertheless, this requires a solution to the Palestinian issue.
When Israelis go to the polls on Tuesday 17 March to elect their 20th Knesset, from which a new governing coalition will be formed, they will do so at a critical time in Israel's relations with the Palestinians.