Recent weeks saw a major uptick in violence across the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Just six weeks after the last round of escalations in Gaza and fighting between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, in which 47 Palestinians were killed, and in the midst of ongoing clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters in East Jerusalem, the Israeli army has expanded its months-long crackdown against militants and other resistance elements in the West Bank. Following a series of terrorist attacks that killed 11 Israeli civilians last spring, Israel’s military has carried out hundreds of nightly incursions into Palestinian cities and towns, arresting more than 1,500 Palestinians, and killing scores, including many civilians. Meanwhile, the decision by Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces to join the Israeli crackdown, resulting in the killing of a Palestinian protester and a member of the PA security forces in the northern West Bank city of Nablus, has added fuel to the fire and revived questions about the PA’s domestic legitimacy.
What is behind Israel’s latest crackdown in the West Bank, and how does it relate to events in Gaza and Jerusalem? What impact is the escalating violence having on the lives of ordinary Palestinians in the occupied territories? Is Israel’s ongoing crackdown preventing another Palestinian uprising, or intifada, or helping to bring one about? What should the United States and the broader international community do to prevent events from spiraling out of control? President Joe Biden reiterated at the U.N. this week the U.S. call for Israelis and Palestinians “to enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, opportunity, and dignity.” How can Washington and its regional partners support Palestine’s communities and economy to meet Biden’s challenge?
To shed light on these and other questions, the Middle East Institute is pleased to invite you to join a panel discussion to explore the causes and consequences of the escalating violence as well as offer potential remedies.
Former Consultant, International Crisis Group
Vice President of Policy, Middle East Institute
Palestine Country Director, American Near East Refugee Aid
Founder and Director, PalThink for Strategic Studies
Khaled Elgindy, moderator
Senior Fellow, Director of Program on Palestine and Palestinian-Israeli Affairs, Middle East Institute
Five Key Takeaways
- The youth control the future of Palestine and the destiny of Palestinians: As all four panelists reiterated at one point during the discussion. The youth are, “sick and tired of living with the status quo.” Especially when Abu Mazin [ie, Pres. Mahmoud Abbas] exits the scene, with the question of succession still left unanswered, the youth will have the opportunity to control their own destiny and show they want to dispose of the status quo.
- Elections are the first step that Palestinians must take: Once again, as all four panelists mentioned, any hope of a free and independent Palestine starts with internal elections. It also allows the younger generations to have their voices heard. Elections slated to take place in May 2021 were tabled by Abbas after a few months prior to election day. Elections have not been held since 2005 in the Palestinian terrorities, while Abbas remains in office 13 years past the expiration of his tenure.
- Rising and falling tensions in Palestine: Sandra Rasheed noted that, “The situation now… ebbs and flows. We have ups and downs of high periods of conflict and then it cools down, but we’re definitely at a very high peak of escalation of violence against the Palestinian people.” There is a justified fear that tensions will boil over between all parties and that the situation could escalate into a full war whether it is amongst Palestinians themselves or against Israel.
- Israel succeeded in its August conflict with the PIJ: Omar Shaban stated that, “Israel did not succeed to fragment the Palestinian people… in the latest escalation Israel succeeded to separate Islamic Jihad and Hamas.” They did succeed in fragmenting the two Palestinian factions in Gaza, being Hamas and the PIJ, however. Any disillusionment between Hamas and the PIJ is a huge success for Israel as internal divisions in Gaza limit and can even prevent escalations coming from the strip.
- The basis of the U.S.-Palestinian relationship has not changed, even under Biden: Brian Katulis emphasized, “this dynamic where US-Palestine policy was always a subsidiary or underneath the US-Israel framework—we’re still there by and large.” Palestinian-American relations must be handled more separate to be dealt with properly. Palestinian issues deserve more recognition than as a subset of American-Israeli relations. Washington needs to change their perspective on this, but is afraid of negative perceptions should they become more involved with Palestine.
Detailed Speaker Biographies
Brian Katulis is a senior fellow and vice president of policy at the Middle East Institute. He was formerly a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP), where he built the Center’s Middle East program and also worked on broader issues related to U.S. national security.
Sandra Rasheed has 28 years of experience in the development field, having worked for both national and international organizations, including MA’AN Development Center, Carter Center, and Save the Children, She has managed dozens of projects and worked with such donors as USAID, the European Union, BMZ, DFAT, and others. She has worked and provided oversight for programs in the fields or sectors of children, youth, education, water, environment, community development, food security and agriculture, human rights, good governance and capacity building, gender, and economic empowerment. She speaks Arabic fluently and currently resides in Ramallah.
Omar Shaban is the Founder and Director of the Gaza-based PalThink for Strategic Studies, an independent think tank with no political affiliation. He is an analyst of the political-economy of the Middle East and is a regular writer and commentator for the Arab and international media. Omar is a founder of Palestinian groups for Amnesty International; the deputy head of the board of Asala, an association promoting microfinance for women; and a member of the Institute of Good Governance
Khaled Elgindy is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, where he also directs MEI’s Program on Palestine and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs. Elgindy previously served as a fellow in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution from 2010 through 2018. Prior to arriving at Brookings, he served as an advisor to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah on permanent status negotiations with Israel from 2004 to 2009, and was a key participant in the Annapolis negotiations of 2007-08. Elgindy is also an adjunct instructor in Arab Studies at Georgetown University.
Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images