West Bank Violence Stalls Arab-Israeli Normalization - Geopolitical Futures - 09.02.23
The recent bout of unrest has broader implications for the Middle East says Hilal Khashan
Last month, three senior U.S. officials visited Israel and the Palestinian Territories to try to avert a third Palestinian intifada. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan reiterated the Biden administration’s commitment to a two-state solution. Secretary of State Antony Blinken seemed intent on pacifying both sides and said it was up to the Israelis and Palestinians to end the violence. And CIA director William Burns warned that massive unrest could erupt at any moment.
Israel Defense Forces have launched preemptive raids on Palestinian activists, mainly in the West Bank cities of Jenin, Nablus and Jericho, killing scores of militants amid the recent bout of violence. Last month alone saw 1,448 violent incidents involving Palestinian youths, including 159 shootings, most of them in Jenin and Nablus, 520 unarmed confrontations with Israeli forces, and 132 clashes with settlers. It appears that a new generation of Palestinians has decided to take matters into their own hands and end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
But the unrest also has implications for other parts of the Middle East that have spent the past couple of years embarking on a rapprochement with Israel. It’s partially responsible for discouraging the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain from further normalizing relations with Israel and deterring others, such as Saudi Arabia and Oman, from signing a formal peace deal.
After Hamas expelled the Palestine Liberation Organization from Gaza in 2007, U.S. security coordinator Gen. Keith Dayton rebuilt the Palestinian security apparatus in the West Bank. His vision went beyond revamping the security services and focused on a broad social engineering process that included security, cultural, economic, social and political policies. Dayton sought to neutralize the Palestinians in the West Bank and shift their focus away from politics by immersing them in a consumerist pattern that would distract from the struggle for statehood.
In addition to facilitating personal bank loans that plunged people into debt and neglected agricultural and industrial development, the plan aimed to destroy the national movement in general, consecrating the Fatah movement as a party of power, ending its liberation mission, and linking it to the PA to paralyze its ability to lead the struggle. Dayton’s process included dominating the entire public sphere, weakening the student movement, and introducing new popular preoccupations, such as entertainment and celebrity gossip instead of patriotic symbols.
This effort sought but failed to prevent the emergence of a new Palestinian generation in the West Bank. The radicalized youth movement started to take shape after Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in 2014 against Gaza’s armed factions. It peaked when Hamas launched Operation Sword of Jerusalem, which targeted Israel’s heartland in 2021. Members of the new generation differ from their predecessors, who grew up in the aftermath of Israel’s takeover of the West Bank in 1967. Palestinian youth today grew up in the reality of rapid technological development and the emergence of digital platforms.
They used this technology to express themselves and developed cultural awareness and a sense of national identity to compensate for what had been lost under the Israeli occupation. The war in Gaza in 2014, which lasted for about 50 days and killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, was the beginning of the new Palestinian resistance in the West Bank. It intensified in 2020 when Palestinian youths launched 441 military operations against the IDF and settlers, more than four times the number of operations in the previous year.
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Hilal Khashan is a Professor of political science at the American University of Beirut. He is a respected author and analyst of Middle Eastern affairs. He is the author of six books, including Hizbullah: A Mission to Nowhere. (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2019.) He is currently writing a book titled Saudi Arabia: The Dilemma of Political Reform and the Illusion of Economic Development. He is also the author of more than 110 articles that appeared in journals such as Orbis, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Middle East Quarterly, Third World Quarterly, Israel Affairs, Journal of Religion and Society, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, and The British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies.