By Ruth Pollard
It seems that US President Joe Biden has finally opened his eyes to the threat posed by extremist Israeli settlers. While Israel’s military campaign in Gaza continues, the West Bank has been allowed to reach a “boiling point”, encouraged by hard-right ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
Escalation of violence
Since Hamas launched its brutal attack on October 7, slaughtering 1,200 people, mostly Israelis (along with dozens of foreigners from other countries, including the US, France and Thailand), there has been a significant increase in violence in the West Bank. Israeli troops there have repeatedly either turned a blind eye or assisted armed settlers who have forced Palestinian families off their land.
At least 190 Palestinians, including 43 children, have died at the hands of Israeli security forces and settlers, while more than 2,000 have been arrested and detained. Nearly 1,100 have been driven from their homes. In nearly half of the cases, according to the United Nations, Israeli security forces accompanied or actively supported the settlers. Now, Biden says he has made it clear to Israel’s leaders that the attacks must stop, noting in a Washington Post op-ed that the US is considering issuing a visa ban against extremist Israeli settlers who attack civilians in the West Bank.
Power show off
Some military operations appear to be pointless, aimed at destroying symbols of Palestinian identity. Soldiers bulldozed a statue dedicated to the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat last week, and destroyed the monument to well-loved Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, erected at the site where she was killed by Israeli forces while reporting on last May.
There is deep concern in Washington over images of Netanyahu’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir handing out weapons to civilians in so-called “community security detachments”. Fears that US-supplied assault rifles could end up in the hands of extremist Israeli settlers threatened to block a weapons shipment to Israel last month.
Everyone from Biden to the European Union and Israel’s Shin Bet security service itself have warned Netanyahu that unless the settlers are reined in, their violence could spark widespread violence in the West Bank, Israel itself and to cause its diffusion in the wider area.
If the increased attacks lead to large-scale displacement of Palestinians, Hezbollah may feel compelled to dramatically escalate its attacks on Israel, says Mona Yacoubian, vice president of the Middle East and North Africa center at the United States Institute of Peace. “Similarly,” he notes, “Iran’s proxies scattered throughout the region would surely increase the pace of their attacks on American targets.”
While the numbers for the West Bank may pale in comparison to the roughly 12,000 people in Gaza who have lost their lives in the past month, the settler violence feeds back a traumatic, emotionally charged story. As Walid Khalidi meticulously reports in “All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Populated by Israel in 1948,” more than 400 Palestinian villages were destroyed or deserted in 1948 after the establishment of the state of Israel. They were replaced by Israeli settlements.
Since then, in more than five decades of military occupation, up to 670,000 settlers have moved into the West Bank, in settlements that are considered illegal under international law. The region has become a dystopia for Palestinians. A 711-kilometer separation barrier cuts off farmers from their land and families from each other. Meanwhile, endless checkpoints, Jewish-only streets, nightly raids on villages and the arrest – often without charge – of thousands of civilians, including 500-700 children each year, continually reinforce the privileging of one ethnic group over the other. another one.
Palestinians see the latest settler attacks not as isolated outbursts, but as part of a concerted plan to squeeze them into an ever-smaller portion of their territory. At the UN on September 22, Netanyahu himself presented a map of the “New Middle East” that shows Gaza and the occupied West Bank as parts of Israel. Ben-Gvir and other cabinet members have openly pledged to annex the entire West Bank. Israeli ministers have speculated that Gaza civilians may be driven across the border into Egypt.
Whether Netanyahu shares their aspirations or appeases members of his hard-right coalition in order to cling to power is of little consequence. The result is the same: Israeli troops may soon face a third front besides those in Gaza and on the northern border with Lebanon, while any hope of enlisting the help of the Palestinian Authority in governing Gaza is fast disappearing.
The need for new leadership on both sides
A long-term solution will require new leadership on both sides. Israel must re-engage in a peace process it has effectively abandoned for years and recognize that its “perpetual” occupation must end. Until the Palestinians get their own state, the conditions that led to every large-scale outbreak of violence, from the first and second Intifadas to – yes – the October 7 attack, will remain. It will not be enough to agree a ceasefire in Gaza – although that should be the immediate priority.
If a Netanyahu-led government seems incapable of making such a leap, so does the Palestinian Authority, the governing body created a year after the 1993 Oslo Accords. President Mahmoud Abbas, who was elected in 2005 to serve a four-year term and is still in office, he is unpopular, and neither is the Palestinian Authority itself. There is no doubt that it would not be welcome back in Gaza in its current form. It also needs to be completely reformed.
But in the meantime, Israel’s government may at least not be exacerbating its own problems. The staggeringly high death toll in Gaza, Netanyahu’s disregard for the fate of the more than 200 hostages held by Hamas, and Israel’s continued rejection of a cease-fire have already seriously damaged the cause of the Jewish state. The last thing it needs is to embolden a minority of settlers whose actions undermine security for all Israelis and Palestinians and increase the risk of a wider conflict.
Performance – Editing – Selection of Texts (2019-2023): G.D. Pavlopoulos