In the wake of Israel’s deadly assault on the Jenin refugee camp, the largest military operation in the West Bank in nearly two decades, Israeli military officials have been quick to declare victory. According to Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, the goals of the two-day Israeli operation were “fully achieved,” adding that “at the moment of truth, the terrorists in Jenin chose to hide or flee.” That Israel, a nuclear power that boasts the region’s most formidable military, would ultimately prevail over the rag-tag and often teenage rebels of Jenin was never in doubt. With the possible exceptions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who earned himself a momentary respite from the ongoing mass protests against his far-right government, and his even more extreme coalition partners, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who have been itching to widen the military crackdown against Palestinians, Israel’s latest assault in Jenin produced no real winners and only losers.
The biggest losers, of course, are the Palestinians themselves, specifically the Jenin refugee camp’s roughly 20,000 residents. A total of 12 Palestinians were killed and more than 150 injured. The Israeli air and land assault destroyed more than 300 homes and damaged over 400 more, many of which were used as bases for Israeli snipers, forcing more than 3,000 Palestinians to flee the camp, in addition to shutting off electricity and water for all of its residents. The scale of death and destruction in Jenin, meanwhile, is likely to deepen the sense of Palestinian despair that has fueled the current rebellion since early 2022. The Israeli crackdown is not just aimed at armed militants, but as Netanyahu proclaimed before the Knesset, Palestinian aspirations for statehood and self-determination also “must be eliminated.”
Not far behind is Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. While the PA’s legitimacy has been in steady decline for many years, Israel’s violent crackdown in the West Bank has exposed the impotence of Abbas’s leadership, which has neither the ability to protect Palestinians in the short term nor a strategy for ending Israel’s 56-year-old occupation in the long term, even as it struggles to remain relevant both politically and practically on the ground. Indeed, with the PA already on the verge of bankruptcy and having effectively lost control over large swaths of the Jenin and Nablus districts in the northern West Bank, Abbas’s PA may already be in a state of slow-motion collapse. With the Palestinian public still reeling from the wave of violent settler rampages in various West Bank villages and the PA’s inability to protect lives and property, anger at Palestinian leaders has reached a boiling point. A video circulating on social media shows two senior Palestinian officials who were attempting to pay their respects at the funerals of the 12 slain Palestinians being chased away by angry mourners.
The Biden administration has also taken a hit to its credibility, albeit a modest one given its overall deprioritization of the Palestinians and the two-state solution. As with previous Israeli military operations, the Biden administration offered unqualified support for the Jenin offensive. “We support, certainly, Israel’s security and right to defend its people against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups,” the White House declared, effectively undercutting its own half-hearted attempts at de-escalation several months earlier at the Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh summits. Whereas most previous U.S. administrations made some attempts at conflict resolution or at least conflict mitigation in Israel-Palestine, the Biden administration has been decidedly hands-off. Moreover, as long as the costs of the status quo are borne primarily by Palestinians, the administration seems content to remain diplomatically disengaged.
One potential area of damage that might register on the Biden administration’s radar, however, is on the normalization front. Unlike the pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, the prospect of expanding the circle of Arab states normalizing with Israel is something in which the administration is willing to invest significant political and diplomatic capital, including the recent creation of a senior diplomatic post dedicated to the expansion of the Trump-brokered Abraham Accords. Even the United Arab Emirates, by far Israel’s closest Arab partner, was compelled to strongly condemn the Israeli “aggression” in Jenin. Moreover, as long as Israeli violence against Palestinians continues, key Arab states like Saudi Arabia, long considered to be the top prize in Israel’s quest for regional legitimization, are unlikely to jump on the normalization bandwagon any time soon.
Lastly, despite the military’s claims to having defeated terror, the Israeli public is also likely to pay a price. While the use of disproportionate force has long been a central feature of Israel’s military doctrine of “deterrence,” the notion that inflicting widescale suffering on Palestinians would somehow make Israelis more secure has never actually been borne out, whether in Gaza or the West Bank. Indeed, in the midst of the Jenin operation, a Palestinian from Hebron carried out a car-ramming attack in Tel Aviv that injured seven Israelis while several rockets were fired from Gaza. On Thursday, July 6, in another apparent revenge attack for Jenin, a Palestinian gunman shot and killed an Israeli soldier stationed outside the settlement of Kedumim, just west of Nablus, before being shot dead himself.
Hamas and other militant groups are vowing to carry out even more attacks on Israelis, which will almost certainly be used to justify ever bigger military operations. While Israel will always have the capacity to inflict far more damage on Palestinians than the other way around, history, including two major uprisings and several smaller ones, has shown that simply pounding Palestinians into submission is unlikely to succeed. Tragically, it may take an even greater escalation in violence, perhaps even involving significant Israeli casualties, before U.S. and other Western leaders are jarred out of their inaction. Moreover, with no responsible third party currently working toward a credible de-escalation, things are likely to get worse get worse before they get better.
Khaled Elgindy is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and the director of its Program on Palestine and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs.
Photo by ZAIN JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images
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