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More violence has erupted in recent days PA Images

Explainer: Why has violence erupted in the West Bank?

A deep sense of frustration among Palestinians and Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power are among the reasons.

THE NINE PALESTINIANS killed in an Israeli raid on Thursday in the West Bank town of Jenin are the latest victims of the worst cycle of violence in the territory in nearly 20 years.

Since its records began in 2005, the United Nations has never logged such a high death toll in a single operation in the West Bank.

2022 had the highest death toll in the conflict since 2005.

At least 26 Israelis and 200 Palestinians were killed across Israel and the Palestinian territories last year, the majority in the West Bank, according to an AFP tally from official sources. This figure includes at least 30 children.

In January 2023 alone, at least 29 Palestinians have been killed.

So why has this violence been happening?

Vincent Durac, Associate Professor in Middle East Politics at University College Dublin, said there are a number of reasons behind the recent unrest – including a deep sense of frustration among Palestinians and Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power.

Durac told The Journal: “What we’re seeing is the expression of a lot of frustration and the absence of any real outlets or any prospects for change on the part of young Palestinians in particular.

“The political process has been obviously stalemated for the longest time but in the context of recent changes in the composition of the Israeli government, where quite hardline elements have now entered into Netanyahu’s Cabinet as approved last December, you see complete stasis and absence of any possibility of meaningful change.

“That’s not to justify the sort of violence that has taken place, but it certainly goes a long way to explaining it and, of course, what you see is a much more heavy-handed approach on the part of the Israeli government in relation to any expression of Palestinian aspirations in the West Bank or indeed more generally.”

Screenshot 2023-01-27 10.15.27 Palestinians clash with Israeli forces following an army raid in the West Bank city of Jenin Majdi Mohammed / AP/PA Images Majdi Mohammed / AP/PA Images / AP/PA Images

Durac noted that some experts have compared elements of Netanyahu’s government to neo-fascists.

“This sounds dramatic, but when you look at the record of these people, it is striking if not horrific,” he added.

Netanyahu was sworn in as Israeli prime minister for a third time in late December, he returned to power with the backing of far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties.

A highly divisive figure, Netanyahu (73) is revered as ‘King Bibi’ by his loyal Likud party base but labelled the ‘crime minister’ by opponents as he fights charges of corruption, embezzlement and breach of trust in court.

He staged his comeback 18 months after he was ousted by an unlikely cross-party coalition to start his third reign after previous terms as premier from 1996-1999 and 2009-2021.

Screenshot 2023-01-27 13.01.39 Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (file photo) PA Images PA Images

Under his rule, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process of the 1990s all but stalled while Jewish settlements were massively expanded in the occupied West Bank.

Lions’ Den

Durac said that more violence is certain in the near future.

“Reprisals are the nature of the underlying political dynamic. And what you see is not just the long established groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but also the emergence of newer groups.

“How organised they are is difficult to say. I’m thinking of the so-called Lions’ Den in Nablus which came to prominence last year.

They seem to be comprised of young people who, for want of any alternatives – and again, as I say, I’m not justifying violence – are taking matters into their own hands, and you see largely acquiescence on the part of the Palestinian Authority.

The Lions’ Den is an armed group that emerged following the killing of Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, a prominent militant from Nablus, by Israeli forces in August 2022.

International reaction

Durac said it’s “remarkable” that apart from “routine condemnation” from the United Nations and others, the large death toll of the last 12 months has gone “largely unnoticed” internationally.

Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, is due to visit the region in the coming days.

Durac said Blinken’s visit may, in the short term, “diminish the appetite for violence all around” – but much more needs to be done.

“There are other efforts taking place, the Egyptians and other Arab states are attempting to mediate – they’ve done that successfully with Hamas in the past.

“But in the medium to longer-term there seems to be very little appetite on the part of the Biden administration to challenge what’s happening.”

‘Stark loss of legitimacy’

Following yesterday’s deadly attack, the Palestinian Authority – the body which governs and administers Palestinian areas in the West Bank – said it was suspending security coordination with Israel, a move that could significantly impact Palestinian civilians.

“Security coordination with the Israeli occupation government no longer exists as of now,” said a statement from Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s office.

There has not been a Palestinian election for 16 years, and many people have called for Abbas (87) to step down and name a successor.

Screenshot 2023-01-27 13.01.46 Nine Palestinians were killed yesterday in the deadliest single raid by Israel in two decades PA Images PA Images

Durac said he’s not sure the move by the Palestinian Authority “will diminish the Israeli appetite to intervene as and when they deem necessary in the course of what they term counterterrorism operations”.

The Palestinian Authority is seen by many Palestinians as really the policing arm of the Israeli government in the West Bank and not much more than that.

“It’s incumbent on Mahmoud Abbas to be seen to be doing something – the stark loss of legitimacy on his part and on the part of the Palestinian Authority over several years now will have some repercussions, of course, in terms of security cooperation.

“Who’s to know exactly what’s going on, but it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if – given some token, acknowledgement on the part of the Israeli authorities – that cooperation was restored before too long. I may be wrong.”

Hostile actions

Durac is not overly hopeful that the violence can be stalled at present.

“A lot of things (need to happen) that I think aren’t going to happen, I’m afraid. It would be helpful if you saw backtracking on the more overtly hostile actions that have been undertaken.

“For instance, the ban on the flying of the Palestinian flag, the withholding of tax revenues that are due to the Palestinian Authority, the presence of cabinet ministers who favour the expulsion of Israeli-born Palestinians, if they’re ‘hostile to the State of Israel’ … any reversal of increasingly significant settlement-building in the West Bank.”

However, he told us there is no indication any of that will happen – and “absolutely no sign of any kind of serious commitment to restarting negotiations”.

“Sadly, all the signs are that this is going in the wrong direction on multiple fronts. Barring some unlikely set of events intervening, it really is difficult to be optimistic.”

Contains reporting from © AFP 2023  

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