By Arab News
By Osama Al-Sharif
With the world’s eyes focused on the ongoing carnage in Gaza — which is now pushing deeper into its fourth month — little attention is being given to Israel’s other war; the one in the West Bank. It may not be as deadly, but it is dangerous enough that it could trigger a new uprising, a collapse of the Palestinian Authority and an attempt by Israeli extremists to drive Palestinians out of villages and towns, i.e., ethnic cleansing.
This war has been going on for decades in the form of systemic land grabs, summary executions of civilians, the demolition of houses, the expansion of illegal settlements, military raids by the Israeli army into towns and refugee camps, the detention of Palestinians without charge and, more recently, the enabling of extremist Jewish settlers to terrorize local residents.
The spike in Israeli atrocities in the West Bank began as soon as Benjamin Netanyahu formed the most far-right government in the history of the state in December 2022. After bringing two of the most extremist figures in the political field — Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich — into his coalition, Netanyahu looked the other way as both men put their anti-Palestinian rhetoric and racist ideology into practice. Today, the PA and West Bank Palestinians are the target of a most nefarious, extremist scheme that has one goal in mind: to kill the idea of Palestinian statehood.
Since Oct. 7 last year, when Hamas carried out its attack on Israel, triggering a bloody response, the Israeli military has been carrying out almost daily raids on Palestinian refugee camps and towns in the West Bank. The result? More than 360 Palestinians dead, including at least one Palestinian American, and more than 6,000 arrested. The deliberate destruction of infrastructure by Israel has been huge: public roads, electrical transformers, water pipes, private property and cellphone towers, among others.
Settler attacks have been on the rise since early last year. Human rights organizations reported that, from Jan. 1 to Sept. 19, Israeli settlers and forces killed 189 Palestinians in the West Bank and wounded 8,192. National Security Minister Ben-Gvir has weaponized more than 800,000 settlers by arming them and allowing them to kill Palestinians with impunity.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Smotrich has blocked tax money from going to the PA, while pushing for its collapse. Although the PA is no longer popular among Palestinians, it remains the only recognized entity that represents them in the Occupied Territories. Netanyahu finds himself torn between killing off the PA entirely and keeping it on life support as long as it honors its security coordination commitments.
Netanyahu has never supported the two-state solution or the Oslo Accords. Recently, he has appealed to Israel’s conservatives by presenting himself as the one leader who would never allow a Palestinian state or give up full Israeli security control over all of historic Palestine.
There are two immediate objectives that he and his extremist partners are trying to achieve. One is to isolate East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, including pushing the remaining Arab residents out of the city through economic hardship and intimidation. The second is to absorb as much West Bank territory as possible into Israel, such as Area C, so that the only remaining areas are Palestinian towns such as Nablus, parts of Hebron, Jenin and Tulkarem. The refugee camps will be strangulated so that they will eventually be abandoned.
While Gaza and its future occupy the attention of world leaders, the fate of the West Bank is currently at stake. Without the West Bank, there can never be a Palestinian state. This is now the main concern of Netanyahu’s partners. What happens next is yet to be decided.
If Netanyahu and his far-right partners continue calling the shots, then we should expect a scenario where Gazans are forced to flee into the Sinai desert and West Bank Palestinians slowly head to Jordan.
Netanyahu is already appealing to Israeli voters as he prepares for a possible snap election in a few months’ time. For him, completing a far-right project in the West Bank and Gaza has become his legacy — one that replaces the utter failure of Oct. 7.
Netanyahu’s scheme could succeed. He knows the inner workings of US politics better than any other Israeli politician. He knows that President Joe Biden is fighting for his political life and that any hint of abandoning Israel would be used against him by the likes of Donald Trump and Nikki Haley. Netanyahu hopes the US presidential election will deflect attention from any foreign conflict. He wants to use this to prolong the war in Gaza, while destroying any hope for a contiguous Palestinian entity in the West Bank.
The sad thing is that Netanyahu, despite his domestic ordeal, is getting away with murder, not only in Gaza but in the West Bank as well. He has rejected Biden’s statements on the two-state solution and attacked the International Court of Justice. He has also ignored strong calls from families of the Gaza hostages.
The West Bank will get more tense in the coming days. Israel is reportedly relocating fighting units from Gaza to the West Bank. The Israeli security service is warning of a possible conflagration there. Pushing Palestinians to the edge will ignite a new intifada. Perhaps that is what Ben-Gvir, Smotrich and Netanyahu are wishing for. Such a scenario could lead to a new status quo; one that could disrupt the region.
Without the West Bank, the two-state solution will become irrelevant. While the US is paying lip service to that solution, under Netanyahu such a path now seems impossible. This is a clear and present danger and the international community must step in to circumvent what Netanyahu and his partners are pushing for.
Derailing Netanyahu’s plan requires solid international rejection. While the Biden administration finds itself in a bind at this stage, other countries should come out to denounce Israel’s actions not only in Gaza but also in the West Bank. Focusing on Israeli atrocities in the West Bank is a must, but blocking its plan to destroy all paths to an independent Palestinian state is a duty.
- Osama Al-Sharif is a veteran journalist and political commentator based in Amman. X: @plato010