Israeli-Palestinian conflict may escalate into full-fledged war and even civil war

By John Solomou

Nicosia: The first three months of this year have been the least violent in Israel for many years as there were no missiles fired from Gaza and no successful lone-wolf attacks. However, all this changed at the start of Ramadan when the Israeli Police Force started using gratuitous violence against Palestinian worshippers. First it prevented them from gathering as customary at Damascus Gate, then beating up protesters at Sheikh Jarrah – where 6 Palestinian families are facing expulsion from their homes in East Jerusalem- and then using teargas and shock grenades inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place in Islam, wounding scores of Palestinian civilians, while many Israeli Police officers were also injured.

The Islamist Hamas organization, whose popularity was dwindling among the Palestinians, immediately seized the opportunity to present itself as the defender of Palestinian rights and started firing hundreds of rockets against Jerusalem and subsequently against other Israeli towns. Most rockets are being intercepted by anti-missile defenses, however, the rockets succeeded in bringing life in many Israeli towns to a standstill. According to the Israeli military, since last Monday Hamas has fired about 3,000 rockets toward Israel.

Care-taker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Hamas will “pay a very heavy price” for its rocket attacks and ordered the Israeli Air Force and artillery to carry out numerous attacks on Gaza, leaving scores of people dead and several wounded. It should be noted that Israeli troops did not enter Gaza as part of a ground invasion. 

On Saturday, an Israeli airstrike pulverized a high-rise building that housed offices of The Associated Press, Al Jazeera and other media after warning that it was being targeted. The attack was roundly condemned by many organizations and governments.

By Sunday afternoon the Palestinian death toll was 188, including at least 55 children, and 1230 wounded. The Israeli death toll is 10, including a child and a 16-year-old girl. The death toll is expected to continue to rise and may culminate in a full-scale war.

US President Joe Biden sent Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hady Amr to Israel trying to broker a ceasefire, but so far, all mediation efforts by the Americans, the Egyptians and some Gulf States have been unsuccessful.

What is more worrying is that the situation is quickly worsening, as in most Israeli towns where there is an Arab population, mass protests are being staged and there are fears of a third Palestinian “Intifada” (uprising). There are frequent clashes between Arabs and Jews, which could escalate into a civil war between the Palestinians, who make about 20 percent of Israel’s population, and Jewish settlers and right-wing Israelis. Almost every night there are clashes between mobs from each community, vandalizing each other’s property.

Israel controls the land, air, water, food, and even the freedom of movement of all Palestinians. Palestinian citizens have reached a breaking point, after more than 70 years of discrimination and racist and exclusionary policies by the Israeli government, as well as the recent attacks in Al Aqsa Mosque. 

Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Israeli Parliament says that the current crisis is “the outgrowth of years of blockades and restrictions in Gaza, decades of occupation in the West Bank and decades of more discrimination against Arabs in the state of Israel… All the enriched ranium was already in place. But you needed a trigger. And the trigger was the Aqsa Mosque.”

The question that arises who benefits from this dangerous situation?

It is evident, that the troubles started in the wake of the heavy-handed treatment by the Israeli Police of Palestinian worshippers, on the orders of Netanyahu’s minion, Amir Omaha, the Minister of Public Security.
After the latest elections, Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to gather the necessary number of members of Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) and thus form a government, because his far-right wing partners refused to participate in a government with the United Arab List of Mansour Abbas. There are suspicions that Netanyahu told the Minister of Public Security to use strong-arm tactics against Palestinian Arabs and so make it extremely difficult for Abbas to join a coalition government with Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid and Yamina leader Naftali Bennet. Due to the escalation of conflict in Jerusalem, the United Arab List party froze coalition talks on Monday, while Bennet later stated that Jewish-Arab violence rules out an anti-Netanyahu government.

The wily Netanyahu thinks that a war will make Israelis rally round the flag as this will improve his chances to continue to serve as a caretaker Prime Minister until new elections are held and thus postpone indefinitely his trial for corruption. Furthermore, if eventually he decides to listen to international mediators and reach a ceasefire with Hamas, he may improve his relations with the Biden Administration.

The other culprit is Hamas, which rules Gaza and believes that by firing thousands of rockets and confronting the Israelis will increase its popularity among the Palestinians and Arabs in general and will project itself as defender of the Palestinian cause. However, it is apparent that no one harms the Palestinian cause more than the Islamists in Gaza. The Islamists know too well, that when attacked, Israel would always flex its military muscles and hit hard at the Palestinians. But Hamas, simply does not care, as an open confrontation with Israel will get the organization more attention from the mass media, than any peaceful protests.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are strictly those of the author)