The Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr has been marked by Palestinians in a state of acute armed conflict with their neighbors. While Israeli cities are experiencing an upsurge of civil violence, the Israeli army is seriously exploring the prospect of a ground operation in the Gaza Strip due to the limited capabilities of the national missile defense (BMD) system.
An already tenuous peace was derailed by the Israeli authorities’ decision to seize houses in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem from the Arab old-timers in favor of Jewish settlers. Police behavior added fuel to the fire. Afrinik has a story about why there is no end in sight to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Hadi Amr, deputy assistant secretary of state for Israeli and Palestinian affairs, has been sent on a mission to the Middle East. Egyptian mediators have arrived in Gaza. Turkey, traditionally supportive of the Palestinians, instinctively turned to the Kremlin for diplomatic support.
The abundance of channels used to try to put out the fire around East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip does not seem surprising: the current phase of the Arab-Jewish escalation has proved the crisis of classical mediation, exposing the inability of responsible players to prevent bloodshed in its infancy. Thus, according to Arab media reports, reports that the situation between Israel and Palestine could spiral out of control were ignored for three weeks by President Joe Biden’s administration.
Israel has pulled an impressive military force to the border with the Palestinian enclave, not declaring but showing readiness for a ground invasion – in defiance of warnings from the international community and the UN. The widely advertised missile defense capabilities of the Jewish state have shown their limits in the current escalation – due to the large number of missiles fired at it and the oversaturation of the system’s guidance channels.
In the seven years since the last armed conflict, a force that controls a small island of coastal Palestinian territory has been able to build up its missile arsenal with foreign technology and stump up one of the world’s best-trained and best-equipped armies.
This round of armed confrontation has its roots in the past. In 1972, about 30 Arab families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood began receiving notices of rent payments from a number of Jewish settlers who claimed to be the rightful owners of the neighborhood.
The self-proclaimed owners appealed to Ottoman-era documents to substantiate their claims. However, their claims were rejected, and the arena for the proceedings became a biased court. Each attempt to evict the old-timers based on a court-issued warrant ended in protests and clashes. The latest episode was no exception when the Themis approved the seizure of real estate in favor of Jewish settlers.
Not only residents but also Muslims from other cities who were making pilgrimages to Jerusalem during the last days of Ramadan joined in the street actions in defense of the residents of Sheikh Jarrah. The riots spilled over into the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Columnist Yossi Melman says that the Israeli police made one fatal mistake: they barricaded the Damascus Gate square, where Arab youths traditionally gather after sunset. This seriously hindered the entrance to Al-Aqsa and angered the worshippers.
Events developed dynamically. After the Israeli police launched a manhunt for the protesters, the Hamas movement in control of Gaza issued an ultimatum to release the detainees and retreat from al-Aqsa or prepare for massive shelling. The demand was ignored.
Controversy over annexation
The situation in East Jerusalem is just one episode in the long dispute between Israel and the Palestinians about the borders of the area of responsibility. The main reason is that the Israelis annexed the territories once allocated by the UN for the creation of a Palestinian state after the Six-Day War in 1967.
This expansion was rejected by the vast majority of the international community: the document that the UN considers as fundamental to the settlement is Security Council Resolution 242, demanding the withdrawal of Israeli forces to the borders that existed before the war or on the 1949 lines (East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip).
However, Israel consistently ignored international instances and built settlements on the occupied land. This could not but become a factor in the development of the Palestinian resistance.
For almost forty years, the Palestinians rejected UN resolutions and also fought diplomatically and militarily against Israel. Arab countries actively supported this campaign. The Palestinians only accepted the idea of a parallel existence of two states in November 1988. That was when the state of Palestine was proclaimed.
However, it was then that Israel was required to withdraw from the territories it had occupied in 1967 and dismantle the settlements. In 1993-1995, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization succeeded in signing the Oslo Accords, a series of agreements that established self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza.
Failure to reconcile
Israeli forces were withdrawn from the Gaza Strip in 2005 as part of the “unilateral disengagement” plan. This move coincided with a sharp increase in the popularity of the Hamas group founded back in 1988. In 2006, the movement won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council and a year later seized control of the coastal enclave after an armed clash with another Palestinian resistance faction, Fatah, which nevertheless continued to rule the West Bank.
Outbreaks of violence between Israelis and Hamas have occurred sporadically. Operation Cast Lead was conducted against the group’s positions in 2009 and Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. The most extensive was the 2014 “Operation Unbreakable Rock,” which aimed to destroy the military infrastructure of the Palestinian factions.
The regularity of these outbursts proves that the sides have their way. Interestingly, after each round of confrontation, diplomats from Qatar are usually sent to Gaza to try to pacify the local administration financially. With the permission of the Israeli secret services, the emirate brings cash into the enclave to keep vital facilities running and delay rocket fire for a while.
The situation has been markedly exacerbated by the increase in Israeli settlement activity since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu came to power. The ambitions of the prime minister often called Mr. Security, spurred then-U.S. President Donald Trump, who clearly sided with the Jewish state, ready to recognize its sovereignty in the Golan Heights or the West Bank.
Another negative factor was the fact that the Israeli political arena was practically deserted by figures willing to compromise with their neighbors, while radical right-wing forces were in the vanguard. Even taking into account the years of governmental crisis among the Israelis, this makes one doubt that the regular disputes over Palestine will ever end. Everyone seems to be satisfied with the current state of affairs.