Why are Palestinians so patient with Israel

Why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now escalating

Over a thousand rockets have been fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip in the past few days. The Israeli army responded with air strikes. There were dead and injured on both sides. This was preceded by weeks of protests in East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, demonstrations are also taking place in many Israeli cities with a Palestinian population. Why has the Israeli-Palestinian conflict escalated again?

It is correct that the news now focuses on the rockets from Gaza and the bombing of the Gaza Strip. This is war and the suffering and horror are reported extensively. With its rockets on Jerusalem, Hamas captured the events there and provoked a war. What fades into the background are the aforementioned protests in East Jerusalem, which were sparked, among other things, by the planned forced evacuation of Palestinian families from their homes or the police violence on Haram al-Sharif or the Temple Mount. Also, we now have a new dimension: horrific scenes of ethnically motivated violence between Jewish and Palestinian Israeli citizens in Israeli cities.

What needs to be done to stop the current escalation of violence?

As I said, we are now dealing with a number of conflicts and forms of violence. The motives for the violence are sometimes different and there is not always an influence on the violent actors. In the case of Gaza, Egypt and Qatar are trying to mediate between Hamas and Israel, so far without success. But what may seem surprising to readers in Germany: In the war between Hamas and Islamic Jihad on the one hand and the Israeli army on the other, it seems to be most likely to recapture it because it is between parties negotiated, who have control over the use of violence.

This will be much more difficult with the protests in East Jerusalem and the violence in Israel itself. There, frustration over structural discrimination has built up in the Palestinian population for a long time and is now mixed with partly racist motives. These were and are not protests that were controlled “from above”. In addition, it is no longer about solidarity protests with what happened in East Jerusalem and the attempt by police forces to contain them. On the Jewish-Israeli side, there are also national-religious extremists who have cultivated their racist hatred of “Arabs” for a long time. Videos of the atrocities committed by the other side are spread via messenger services and re-fuel the violence. There have been reports of lynch mobs roaming the streets.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict had faded into the background for several years in the media. Has he been neglected politically for too long?

The Palestinian territories have been under Israeli occupation for 54 years and parts of them, as in the case of East Jerusalem, have been annexed by Israel. The densely populated Gaza Strip has been subject to strict blockade by Israel and Egypt since it was controlled by Hamas, i.e. since 2007. Israel recently deceived itself and the world into believing that the conflict with the Palestinians could be managed in the long term without addressing the core of it. In particular, the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and some Arab states such as the United Arab Emirates last year contributed to this illusion.

This diplomatic breakthrough, known as the “Abraham Accords”, was preceded by an unprecedented escalation in the Israel-Palestine conflict. In spring 2020, the Israeli government coalition agreed in principle to want to annex large parts of the West Bank, which would forever deny the Palestinians' right to self-determination and the prospect of a Palestinian state that deserves its name.

Experts repeatedly question the extent to which the so-called two-state solution is still realistic. But what are the alternatives to that? The current violence does not speak in favor of the option of peaceful coexistence, for example in a common state.

A common state with equal rights and equal opportunities is a utopia above all because there is only a small minority in Israel who can imagine a single state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean in which all citizens, including all Palestinians , equal rights would be granted because this would endanger the Jewish character of Israel demographically. There are also still many Palestinians who combine their right to self-determination with their own statehood. However, it is all the more counter-intuitive that the Israeli government continues to cement the one-state reality.

The proportion of settlers in the West Bank has multiplied to 650,000 since the peace process in the 1990s. The settlements stretch like a network through the entire West Bank and East Jerusalem and rob the Palestinians of freedom of movement and development opportunities. Because the Israeli government is steadily consolidating its claim to the entire country and making no suggestion of either granting the Palestinians equal rights or ending the occupation, more and more human rights organizations such as the Israeli organization B'tselem or Human Rights Watch are talking about a system of apartheid .

What about the Palestinian Authority? Hardly anything has been heard from her in the current conflict.

The Palestinian Authority has lost an immense amount of credibility and legitimacy among the Palestinian people. This is mainly due to the fact that the authority that was created in the course of the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s and was to form the nucleus of a future Palestinian state has never exceeded a very limited degree of autonomy. The Palestinian Authority only administers a small part of the West Bank and has to coordinate with the Israeli authorities on almost all points, or ask them for permission. This was also the case most recently in the elections for the parliament of the autonomous authority originally scheduled for May 22nd. Because Israel prevented the Palestinians from voting in East Jerusalem, contrary to the Oslo Accords, the official reasoning, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas canceled the elections unceremoniously. It is an open secret that important officials around the president were not interested in the elections anyway because they had to reckon with a loss of power. When Palestinians organized demonstrations in solidarity with the protests in East Jerusalem in Ramallah, these were violently broken up by Palestinian security forces.

Hardly any Palestinian still believes that the Palestinian Authority will act in their favor and perhaps one day bring an end to the occupation. Meanwhile, Hamas, which in recent years had actually lost a lot of approval in Palestinian society - election polls saw it as only 8.2 percent - is acting as the force that does not stand idly by and takes on Israel. Depressing as that is, it may be that Hamas is now gaining popularity in Palestinian society, at least for a short time.

What can Europe and what can the US do?

Europe and the United States have no influence over the protests and the hateful violence between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. They also have little influence on the conflict between Israel and the Islamist groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, because they classify the latter as terrorist groups and have no contact with them. What Europe and the USA could still do would be to use the situation to fundamentally analyze their own actions in the Middle East conflict again. A return to the formula of the two-state solution without underpinning it with a policy that measures all sides against action in this sense would only perpetuate the conflict.

One possibility would be to prioritize a rights-based approach. This means that the international community would stand up for the protection of human rights for all people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, immediately and emphatically. Which "technical" implementation, whether a binational state, two-state solution, confederation or similar, the Israelis and Palestinians agree on, should of course be decided by themselves. In no case should a “solution” precede and the protection of human rights be postponed forever until this solution is possible.

The interview first appeared in the IPG Journal.

The interlocutor

Hannes Alps heads the office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in East Jerusalem and represents the foundation in the Palestinian Territories. Before that, he worked in the international political analysis of the FES in Berlin and headed the editorial team of the IPG journal. He was also the editor of the Middle East magazine zenith.