17 January 2022

Monday, 04:16



The bloodiest conflict between Israel and Palestine since 2014



The Holy Land of Jerusalem revered by adherents of three Abrahamic religions is bleeding again. Hostilities have broken out again between Israel and Palestine, with innocent victims on both sides of the conflict. It is the largest armed conflict between the two nations since the 2014 war. And it has internal and external background.


New victims

Events in East Jerusalem became a reason for the next round of clashes in the bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They followed the decision of an Israeli court to evict several Arab families from a building in the Sheikh Jarrah quarter of East Jerusalem on the grounds that in 1948, even before the creation of the State of Israel, the territory was inhabited by Jewish families. Although the Israeli authorities approached the situation as a dispute over property rights, the ruling sparked extreme outrage among Palestinians who consider East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

The situation became complicated after the Israeli police decided to limit and then completely block access to the Temple Mount in order to prevent street riots. As a result, Muslims could no longer enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Jews - the Western Wall. For Muslims, this decision turned out to be completely unacceptable: after all, the events took place in the last days of the holy month of Ramadan.

This eventually triggered violence from both sides. Following the clashes between Palestinian protesters and the Israeli security forces, rocket attacks began from the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). The Hamas movement, as well as its paramilitary wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades and the Islamic Jihad claimed the responsibility for the attacks on Israeli cities. Israel then launched airstrikes on the Palestinian territory. Within a few days, the Palestinians fired about 1,500 missiles into Israeli territory, most of which were shot down by the Israeli air defense system. Israel attacked over 130 targets of the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip controlled by Palestinians.

However, the victims of mutual attacks are mostly civilians. In the first three days since the outbreak of hostilities, more than 60 Palestinians were killed, including 17 children. About 300 people were injured. According to the Gaza authorities, half of them are women and children. Israeli casualties amount to 6 deaths, including one child, and over 70 injured.

Israel is facing serious complications because the armed confrontation with Hamas turned into clashes in Israeli cities. Protesters are Israeli Arabs, who make up about 21% of the total population of the country. The most violent clashes took place in the city of Lod near the Israel's main international airport, Ben Gurion. Arabs make up about 30% of the city population. The situation got to the point when the radical residents of the city replaced the Israeli flags on government buildings with Palestinian ones, smashed Judaica shops, set fire to a synagogue and several cars. Authorities introduced a state of emergency in Lod, since there was a real danger of bloody showdowns between the Jewish and Arab residents of the city. It is not surprising that many regarded the events as almost the beginning of a civil war in Israel, a war that can undermine the foundations of interethnic peace, harmony between Jewish and Arab citizens.

However, the most unpleasant moment for Israel was that the Palestinian radicals demonstrated their ability to hold the Israeli territory under a prolonged and massive attack. This shows that they have sufficient missile resources to constantly keep Israel in a state of tension. This is especially important for Hamas, since it has confirmed its militant potential, especially to the Palestinian public. This happened when the internal political opponent of Hamas, the PNA leadership headed by Mahmoud Abbas, recently made a significant step to strengthen its positions by cancelling the presidential and parliamentary elections in Palestine slated for May 22. Abbas's main argument was that general elections do not make sense until the participation of Arab residents of East Jerusalem is guaranteed, which is impossible under Israeli control. However, many observers believe that the real motivation for Abbas was an attempt to prevent the possible coming of the Hamas movement to power.

Meanwhile, Hamas, after losing its chance to take control of the Palestinian Authority after the now-cancelled elections, compensated the lost by fierce resistance to Israel in the current armed confrontation. This confirmed its reputation as an uncompromising Palestinian power.

Meanwhile, the ongoing events are in the interests of both Hamas and the current Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu. The latter also faces serious problems on the domestic political front. Netanyahu's attempt to create a new ruling coalition following parliamentary elections in late March was unsuccessful. Therefore, President Reuven Rivlin gave the mandate to form a cabinet to parliamentary opposition leader Yair Lapid. He was going to get involved in the creation of the ruling coalition from the Joint Arab List. However, under the current surge of violence between Arabs and Jews, these attempts are practically in vain. The experienced politician Netanyahu objectively is the beneficiary of the current situation, as he gets yet another chance to extend his term in the office, especially given his tough position during the confrontation with the Palestinian radicals. His rigid approach definitely appeals to a significant part of his electorate.

However, is there a chance to end the hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians as soon as possible? Alas, it seems insignificantly low amid the condition put forward by Hamas to stop rocket attacks on Israel – only if the Israeli security forces stop actions around the Al-Aqsa mosque. The situation has further heated up after the statements of Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz to continue strikes on the positions of Palestinian militants in Gaza until they lead to "complete, long-term tranquillity." Therefore, much will depend on the position of the world community, or rather, on those interested external forces that are capable of influencing the conflicting parties.


External factors

The main and remarkable external factor is the traditional strong position of the US in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This position is manifested amid the changes in the American policy in the international arena after a new president entered the Oval Office in Washington in January 2021.

The previous administration led by Donald Trump contributed to the realisation of Israel's interests by all possible means, including the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, support for the construction of Jewish settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan River, and efforts to normalise Israel's relations with a number of Arab states. But the new Joe Biden administration has adjusted the focus of Washington's policy in the Middle East. Now there is a tendency to return to the line that the Democrats followed during the Barack Obama administration – the idea of creating two states for two nations.

Since the current escalation of tensions in the Middle East, Americans have blocked the adoption of the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians and calling to stop the expulsion of residents from their homes in the East Jerusalem quarter of Sheikh Jarrah. US officials have also made a number of statements about Israel's right to self-defense. Nevertheless, it is clearly visible that the White House is not happy with the actions of the Jewish side.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken during a telephone conversation with Netanyahu condemned the violence by Hamas but stressed that Israel is obliged to avoid civilian casualties. During his talks with the Jordanian Minister of Foreign and Expatriate Affairs Ayman Hussein Abdullah al-Safadi, Mr. Blinken supported the preservation of the historical status quo of the holy sites in Jerusalem. He reaffirmed the US' support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

According to Ned Price, Spokesman for the US State Department, "there is no justification for violence, but such bloodshed is especially alarming in the last days of Ramadan." The parties to the conflict were called upon to avoid any steps that could aggravate the situation, such as “evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activities, destruction of houses and terrorist attacks”.

Thus, the US makes it clear that it will not categorically support Israel's policy, even though it remains Washington's closest ally in the Middle East. Experts believe that this is because the Palestinian-Israeli conflict gradually ceases to be among the priorities of the US amid the growing confrontation with China and Russia, as well as the US intention to resolve the Iranian crisis.

The latter factor is very important in view of Israel's undisguised discontent with the Biden administration's intention to return the US to the ‘nuclear deal’ with Tehran and weaken anti-Iranian sanctions. As for the possible influence of Iran on the ongoing hostilities between Israel and Palestine, despite the growing confrontation between Tehran and Tel Aviv, manifested, in particular, in the more frequent attacks of the Israeli army on the positions of pro-Iranian forces in Syria, there are no signs of Iranian interference. In any case, the Israeli Foreign Ministry admitted that it does not have information about any direct involvement of Iran in the current aggravation of the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

However, it is clear that further demonstration of Hamas military activity coupled with the destabilisation of internal situation in Israel plays into the hands of Iran. On the other hand, the Palestinian-Israeli escalation is objectively in the interest of such an influential pro-Iranian organisation in the region as the Lebanese Hezbollah. Thus, they seek to use any chance of at least partial weakening of the Jewish state.

Among the world powers, Russia and Turkey unequivocally support the two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They both successfully cooperate on various regional platforms, including the settlement of the Syrian conflict and the joint peacekeeping monitoring centre in Garabagh, Azerbaijan, and demonstrated an almost identical position on the current escalation of confrontation in Jerusalem. In particular, both Ankara and Moscow remain committed to the UN Security Council resolutions on the Palestinian-Israeli problem. Remarkably, the presidents of Turkey and Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, discussed the possibility of sending international peacekeeping forces to the region under the auspices of the United Nations.

However, Israel rejects any external interference concerning its vital interests, primarily on the issue of Jerusalem. Therefore, given the positions of external powers on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, there are practically no forces on the international arena (due to the lack of a sincere desire or sufficient tools of pressure) ready to take measures that would deprive Israel of its ‘right to self-defense’.