Surge in West Bank violence further undercuts Abbas’s precarious leadership


Israel’s year-long violent crackdown on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank has taken its toll. About 190 Palestinians were killed in 2022, making it the deadliest year for West Bank Palestinians since the end of the Second Intifada in 2005. Violence has increased sharply since the new far-right Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu , the most extreme in the country. History of Israel, in power in late December. As a result, 2023 is on pace to be one of the bloodiest years for Palestinians in the recently occupied territories. Around 80 Palestinians, both military and unarmed civilians, have been killed since the beginning of the year, with no end in sight.

In addition to the terrible human and material toll, among the many casualties of Israel’s ongoing attacks on the West Bank is the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Mahmoud Abbas, whose ability to protect the Palestinians in the short term is neither a strategy to defend. ending Israel’s long-term occupation, even as it struggles to be politically and practically relevant on the ground. Without outside intervention, Israel’s violent military crackdown in the West Bank is likely to fuel more violence while already undermining Abbas’s leadership and whatever may be left of the PA’s domestic credibility.

Abbas’s PA has been in steady decline for years and, in many ways, is already slowly falling apart. Decades of political and institutional stagnation, thanks in large part to the damaging 15-year split with Hamas, coupled with growing PA corruption and authoritarianism and a growing perception that the current Palestinian leadership lacks a strategic vision for the liberation of the Palestine, having greatly eroded the community. The PA’s domestic legitimacy. Abbas in particular remains popular, with more than three-quarters of Palestinians saying they want him to step down. Meanwhile, the leadership’s chronic financial woes, including a massive 75% reduction in international donor aid since 2013 combined with Israel’s confiscation of $2 billion in tax transfers since 2019, have brought the PA to the brink of bankruptcy. At the same time, the PA’s physical presence on the ground is also declining, particularly in the towns of Nablus and Jenin in the northern West Bank, where PA security forces have largely ceded control to new armed armed groups intent on attacks. to make an Israeli. soldiers and settlers.

Israel’s escalation in the West Bank is undermining Abbas and the PA’s already precarious domestic position. In fact, according to a new poll, for the first time ever a majority of Palestinians support the dissolution of the PA. The belief that the PA is no longer serving the interests of the Palestinian people is directly related to its perception as Israel’s “security subcontractor.” After the January 26 Israeli army raid on the Jenin refugee camp that killed 10 people, therefore, Abbas had little choice but to publicly suspend security coordination with Israel, and although it is central to the survival of the PA itself that there is a great desire among the Palestinians and it is widely seen as a form of cooperation with the occupation; however, Abbas was quick to reassure US officials that the PA would continue to deter attacks on Israelis. Meanwhile, with Israeli violence and the Palestinian death toll mounting, the popularity of armed groups such as the Den and Jenin Lions Brigades has grown, even as the PA’s own popularity continues to decline. minimum.

An increasingly insecure Abbas has responded to these challenges in the only ways he knows how – by seeking refuge from outside powers and confronting growing dissent at home, and unlikely that either will bring much relief. Abbas’ first stop was at the United Nations in mid-February, where he sought a Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements and other unilateral actions. A week later, however, he agreed to drop the measure in return for an Israeli pledge to increase the PA’s finances by hundreds of millions of shekels a month, prompting renewed anger from Palestinian activists and opposition groups. Then came the deadly Israeli attack in Nablus on February 22, killing 11 Palestinians, the highest death toll in a single day since the Israeli crackdown began a year ago. Because of the timing of the Israeli raid on the heels of Abbas’ decision to withdraw the UN resolution, Abbas was badly burned.

Even as he condemned the “Nablus massacre” and threatened to go back to the Security Council, Abbas took a more scientific tack, accepting an invitation to attend a US/Jordanian-sponsored emergency summit in the Red Sea resort town in Aqaba, where the leaders of Palestine and Israel, supported by the diplomats of the US, Jordan, and Egypt, met on February 26 to reach a plan to de-escalate the violence. At Aqaba, the Israelis and Palestinians agreed to take mutual steps toward “de-escalation on the ground and prevent further violence,” including Israel’s commitment to uphold past agreements, a temporary halt to settlements, and respect the Status Quo in Jerusalem.

This was a big step forward, coming from the far right Israeli government. But in reality, the Aqaba communiqué was a dead letter. No sooner had the statement been issued than prime ministers in the Israeli government denounced it, and both Netanyahu and his chief of staff stayed away from it.

Furthermore, events on the ground had quickly overtaken the document. After two Israeli settlers were killed by a Palestinian gunman in the northern West Bank village of Hawara on the same day, hundreds of radical settlers swept through the village, torching dozens of houses, shops and cars and killing one Palestinian, Israeli soldiers said. stood at. After the Hawara “pogrom”, as one Israeli general described it, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the radical Religious Zionist Party further fanned the flames by declaring that Hawara must be “erased from the face of the earth”. The Biden administration condemned Smotrich’s incitement as “bad” and “disgraceful” but he was nevertheless granted a diplomatic visa to visit Washington this week. However, the Biden administration continues to send mixed signals, calling for immediate steps to end the violence on one hand while lending full support to Israel’s military campaign in the occupied West Bank as part of its “right to protect its people and territory against. all forms of aggression” on the other.

As Abbas continues to gamble on the stakes of an otherwise nonexistent peace process, growing local anger toward his leadership has fueled the Palestinian leader’s paranoia and authoritarian tendencies. As a result, PA security forces have stepped up their crackdown on dissent, attacking funeral processions of Palestinians killed by Israel and shutting down civil society initiatives, such as the “14 Million” conference, which intended to issue a public statement asking for their cancellation. holding Oslo agreements and general elections.

Meanwhile, Israel’s military crackdown in the West Bank shows no signs of letting up. Washington is urging the Palestinian leader to attend a follow-up summit in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh scheduled for later this week. In the absence of Israeli will to engage in real de-escalation as well as any meaningful US or international pressure to do so, however, the gathering is likely to meet the same fate as Aqaba. The fact that the Biden administration is behind the Aqaba and Sharm meetings is welcome from its usual passive pattern of the past two years, although summits and statements alone are not enough to change trends on the ground. This will require concerted international pressure, especially from the US, on Israel to end its violent campaign. Without such an approach, which seems highly unlikely, given the administration’s record to date, violence is likely to continue and the PA to perish.

Khaled Elgindy is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and director of its Program on Palestinian and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs.

Photo by JACQUELYN MARTIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

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