A deceptive calm in the West Bank

A deceptive calm in the West Bank

Op-Ed: If the era of the two-state solution is indeed drawing to a close, the Palestinians will not remain silent

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

A general view during a gun battle between Palestinian security forces with gunmen in the Balata refugee camp, near the West Bank city of Nablus, October 29, 2016. (Nasser Ishtayeh/FLASH90)
A general view during a gun battle between Palestinian security forces with gunmen in the Balata refugee camp, near the West Bank city of Nablus, October 29, 2016. (Nasser Ishtayeh/FLASH90)

The UN Security Council vote on Friday shattered the idyllic feeling that Donald Trump’s victory had created among some here over the past month and a half — that no more organizations or people would block the State of Israel’s intention to continue building in the settlements, and that the dream (or fantasy or illusion) of the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria could be made to disappear.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had not hidden his satisfaction, and had been speaking with his close associates about the historic opportunity given to the State of Israel.

And notwithstanding that 14-0 defeat, with that resonant US abstention, Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett may be right: the era of the two-state solution may be over. We may be facing the dawn of a new day in Middle Eastern history, in which Israel will be able to annex sizeable portions of the territory in the West Bank, the American embassy will finally be moved to Jerusalem, and the Palestinians will have to content themselves with autonomy in the large cities and nothing more. The security situation in the West Bank has calmed down, relatively speaking. The new American president not only supports the settlements, but also abhors the Palestinians. Barack Obama will be gone. The world will do nothing without the United States. And Israel will be able to rule, in peace and quiet, over 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank.

The problem with this equation is that it ignores one significant factor: the Palestinians. The idea of entrenching Jewish settlement in the West Bank and turning the idea of two states into a distant dream is probably rooted in the premise that the Palestinians will remain silent in the face of such a loss of hope. Instead of going out to protest, violently or non-violently, against the occupation, they will be gripped by such despair that they will stay home.

But the street, Palestinian public opinion, and the polls (yes, the polls) all point to a different, darker, and bleaker direction. Instead of leading to calm, the despair could lead to a much more violent outbreak than the one of October 2015. Hamas’s infrastructure, which the Shin Bet exposed and which had planned a series of suicide attacks in Haifa and Jerusalem, only serves as additional proof of that, like the series of shooting attacks that took place over the past two weeks in the Binyamin region. In addition, a poll that Dr. Khalil Shikaki’s institute conducted in the territories 10 days ago emphasizes these worrisome trends and the changes in Palestinian public opinion — things that ought to cause much more worry than a Security Council vote of whatever kind.

First, 65 percent of the total number of respondents said that the two-state solution was no longer relevant due to the construction in the settlements. “Only” 56% said so three months ago. In other words, even most Palestinians no longer believe in this solution, which the right wing does not want.

Does this mean the Palestinians will sit quietly and do nothing?

This is where another statistic comes in. The poll asked what the best way was to fulfill the Palestinians’ aspirations. 24% said that non-violent resistance was the best way, 33% said negotiations were the best way, and 37% said that armed struggle (armed resistance) was most preferable — an increase of a few percentage points in support of armed struggle, as compared with three months ago.

One major reason that armed struggle has not already erupted seems to be the intensive work of Israel’s security troops in the West Bank against various terrorists, alongside the Palestinian Authority’s security agencies. But the poll is not particularly optimistic here, either. 64% of the respondents said that they would like to see Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas resign. (This figure was 61% three months ago.) In other words, support for him is weakening.

What will be on the day after Abbas? We can only guess what could happen here. Considering that the Palestinians’ abhorrence of Israel is increasing day by day, along with the vacuum that will be created here after the departure of Abbas (who remains the Palestinian leader most blatantly opposed to violence), and in the absence of all hope of establishing a state, we can guess that while there may be more settlements in the West Bank, there will definitely not be calm.

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