President Trump plans a 22-23 May visit to Israel and Palestine in pursuit of the “ultimate deal”. But behind the scenes, rising tensions between Palestinian factions may be drawing Gaza and Israel closer to a new war.
Palestinian prisoners in Israel continued hunger strike to demand improvements in conditions until 27 May, despite Israel’s attempt to undermine strike leader Marwan Barghouti by releasing video of him eating; at least 60 strikers taken to Israeli civilian hospitals in critical condition. Hundreds of Palestinians protesting in solidarity with prisoners 19 May clashed with Israeli security forces in West Bank and Gaza. Hamas 1 May released political document significantly moderating its positions in 1988 charter including referring to Palestinian state on pre-1967 borders as a formula for Palestinian national consensus and stressing that Hamas’s conflict was with Zionism and not with Jews because of their religion. However, 1988 charter not abrogated. President Abbas met U.S. President Trump 3 May at White House; Abbas said afterwards he had stressed importance of two-state solution. Israel 21 May said it would make economic concessions to Palestinians as part of confidence-building measures requested by Trump, including building two industrial zones in West Bank and ease restrictions on Palestinian construction in Area C. Visiting Jerusalem and Bethlehem 22-23 May, Trump confirmed commitment to resolving Israel-Palestine conflict but did not say how. In Gaza, living conditions continued to worsen as electricity shortages and salary cuts persisted and Palestinian Authority (PA) delayed sending medicine and baby formula. Hamas 6 May said it had elected former PA PM and leader of Hamas’s political bureau in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh as new leader. Missile reportedly fired at Israel from Sinai 23 May, no casualties reported. Israel 28 May announced ambitious plans for Jerusalem’s Old City Basin, including cable car to be unilaterally designed and implemented by Israel which would connect West Jerusalem with Old City.
The collapse of U.S.-led Israeli-Palestinian talks in 2014 led to political instability, rising violence and settlement expansion. To improve his successors’ peace-making chances, President Obama should push for a new UN Security Council resolution setting out the basic parameters of a deal.
A deceptive calm on Jerusalem’s Holy Esplanade is unlikely to hold under pressure from the ongoing “third intifada”, widespread dissatisfaction among Palestinian youth and growing Jewish Temple activism. Bolstering the 1967 Status Quo arrangement remains crucial, but immediate attention must be on maintaining more recent understandings on access to the Esplanade as the religious holiday season begins.
Both Israel and Hamas recognise that another war is only a matter of time if Gaza’s fundamental problems are not addressed: the economy is a shambles; the acting government lacks the ability to collect or otherwise obtain the revenue necessary to pay salaries and provide services; and most residents cannot access the outside world.
Jerusalem’s Holy Esplanade remains at the epicentre of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With the holy month of Ramadan underway and the Jewish high holidays soon to follow, tensions are likely to increase. Calming the conflict’s symbolic core requires more support for the site’s status quo, including Palestinian participation and encouraging religious dialogue.
To achieve a durable ceasefire, not only must Israel significantly change its policy toward Gaza, but, no less importantly, Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organisation must take further steps to implement their reconciliation agreement in order to enable reconstruction and stabilise daily life in the Strip.
With Palestinians increasingly doubtful that the refugee question can be resolved within a two-state framework, the Palestinian leadership should seek to reinvigorate refugee communities as well as to reclaim its representation of them. When diplomacy emerges from its hiatus, the leadership will be able to negotiate and implement a peace agreement only if it wins refugees’ support or at least acquiescence.
Both the Israelis and Palestinians are pros at wearing down envoys with endless details. They’ve done it to the most experienced negotiators.
The stark message from Trump and Riyadh is, 'Now you must choose. Are you with the bad guys or the good guys?' Netanyahu understands that Trump has set himself up as judge and jury.
[Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu has been trying to hold back but he has been under very strong pressure from the settlement movement.
Today we see a steady erosion of incentives for Israel to end the conflict and establish a Palestinian state.
[Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu prizes stability over anything else. So on very pragmatic grounds, he’s not disappointed and was not expecting a move [of the U.S. embassy in Israel].
[Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is trying to respond to pressure from the religious right, which is asking, ‘Fifty years after capturing Jerusalem, what’s next?’
Originally published in The Times of Israel
As U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepare to meet, the fundamentals of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process hang in the balance.
U.S. policy threatens to undo not only the two-state solution, but stable relations with Israel’s Arab neighbors.
Originally published in The Cairo Review of Global Affairs
Once again Israeli leaders denounce UNESCO and tell their people with an odd tone of satisfaction: “The whole world is against us; we you told you so!”
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post
Defusing conflict over Jerusalem’s holiest site.