Political unrest and violence in Israel set to continue through 2023?
2022 was the bloodiest year in Israel and the West Bank in recent memory—not since the second Intifada, which lasted from September 2000 to February 2005, have so many Israelis and Palestinians been killed. Up to March this year, some 14 Israelis and 60 Palestinians were killed in Jerusalem and the West Bank alone, and the prospects for violence and unrest through 2023 remain high.
If there were any reason to be optimistic, it would have been the rare peace talks—initiated by the Biden administration—that were held between Israeli and Palestinian officials in Jordan on 26 February. But no sooner had the ink dried on the joint communique than hundreds in Huwara and other Palestinian villages were injured by Israeli settlers, as part of a revenge attack for the shooting of two Israeli settlers by a gunman from Huwara.
Neither did the convergence of Passover and Ramadan this year lead to a pause in the violence, as evidenced by the fatal shooting of British-Israeli Lucy Dee and her daughters Maia and Rina in the West Bank, or the killing of Italian tourist Alessandro Parini in a car-ramming attack in Tel Aviv.
Just what must be done to end this seemingly endless nightmare?
To be sure, peace in the Middle East is a weighty and convoluted matter. There are many parties that one can point the finger at, including the far-right and ultranationalist Israeli politicians who have found themselves in control of national security and are now openly broaching the annexation of the West Bank.
A constant and perhaps part of the equation must be the PLO’s leadership. Never mind that the United States, Britain, and not least of all Israel have had their respective reasons for wanting the Abbas regime to remain in power, it has been clear for quite some time already that Abbas no longer commands the respect of his people. Once celebrated for his involvement in the 1993 Oslo Accords, Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of Fatah (formerly known as the Palestinian National Liberation Movement), is now seen as a discredited and illegitimate president who nearly 80% of Palestine is calling to resign.
It is hardly a surprise that a gerontocracy like Abbas’ regime —whose top-tier leadership has a mean age of 70—has lost touch with TikTok-crazed tweens and teens, to say nothing of Abbas’ being increasingly sidelined by a new Middle Eastern framework in the Abraham Accords. All told, Abbas can scarcely be expected to be an architect of any lasting peace—or, at any rate, a practical one, bearing in mind that Oslo-style two-state initiatives have not borne much fruit since formal negotiations first began. For there to be an effective change of strategy, there must first be a change of leadership.
Although they have not voted in a general election for more than 16 years, and the last announced election was indefinitely postponed at the last minute in April 2021, it is surely only a matter of time before the Palestinians welcome a new leader. Abbas, whose schedule has recently slowed down, can sensibly step down to take care of his reportedly (albeit unsurprisingly, for an 88-year-old chain smoker) failing health, otherwise he might be deposed.
At the same time, one should not wait with bated breath for Abbas to be somehow replaced by a much younger and respectable Palestinian who is genuinely committed to making peace with Israel. In all likelihood, Abbas’ successor will be just as inept—and in any case, it would be quite an exercise for Fatah to regain the confidence of the Palestinians.
Indeed, this also means entertaining the very real possibility that the Palestinian national project will eventually be fronted, in one way or another, by groups as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad Movement, or even anti-PA militants like the Jenin Brigades or the Lions’ Den. This might shake up the Middle East so much that it renews the impetus for the peace process it desperately needs. Then again, such a risky strategy would likely exacerbate the violence in the West Bank and lead to an upsurge in attacks on innocent Israelis.
In short, the outlook for the rest of the year—and the prospects of the peace process whether under Abbas or his potential successor—is unfortunately a pessimistic one.