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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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Palestinians in a Quandary How to React to Possible Israeli Territorial Action

Filed under: Fatah, Hamas, Israel, Settlements

Palestinians in a Quandary How to React to Possible Israeli Territorial Action
Grassroots Palestinian pressure on the Palestinian leadership, starring Handala, a character who symbolizes defiance. (Samidoun, May 15, 2020)

Israel’s declared intention to apply sovereignty over some territories in Judea and Samaria is provoking a storm in the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, and to a lesser extent in other Arab states. The question before us is what might happen on the Palestinian side if Israel does indeed take the step to annex or apply sovereignty over parts of the West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority has already announced the cessation of security coordination. However, my discussions with Palestinian sources indicates that coordination continues in alternative ways, and IDF forces continue to operate in the PA’s territories with the knowledge of Palestinian security forces.

As long as Jordan’s border crossings are in Israel’s hands, the Palestinian Authority cannot detach itself from the security coordination with Israel. Without such cooperation, the PA’s heads will not be able to cross over to Jordan, and that would sever their ties with the Arab world.

A Return to Violence?

Is the implied threat to renew terrorism realistic? No.

Arafat launched the second intifada when he had logistical support in Jordan, and beyond there, also in Syria, Sudan, and Iran. Today’s Jordan is not Jordan from back then, and Jordanian security forces are now blocking Palestinian terrorist activity from being launched from their territory.

The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood with ties to the Royal Palace is also opposed to “Hamasification” within Jordan, and it is careful not to arm itself or allow any branch to follow Hamas’ footsteps.

Large arsenals of weapons can be found in the refugee camps in the West Bank and cities such as Yaabed, Jenin, Tulkarm, and Nablus camps, but these are weapons provided to supporters of dissident Mohammed Dahlan and are reserved for the expected violent power struggle after Abbas leaves the scene. So far, the violence against the IDF has been mostly throwing stones, but these firearms are being saved – at least for now – for internal conflicts.

Fatah’s Tanzim militia, which is a criminal organization in nationalist camouflage, is better off keeping the status quo because it is good for business. They do not want to challenge the IDF or Mahmoud Abbas to intervene. Therefore, they do not provoke the IDF, nor do they challenge Abbas, as long as Palestinian security maintains its distance from the refugee camps.

Surprisingly, Hamas also has no interest in overthrowing Abbas. Hamas understands that as long as Abbas demands full control of Gaza, Israel will not overthrow Hamas’ rule in Gaza, because Abbas will fill the vacuum. There is a shared interest between Hamas and Israel: Israel wants to keep Hamas rule in Gaza to prevent an expansion of an Abbas-led Palestinian state, a state that would have a safe passage route between the West Bank and Gaza dissecting Israel.

If terrorism is limited and security coordination continues, then what will happen?

Part of the Tanzim seeks to oust Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh’s technocratic government precisely because it has managed the coronavirus crisis well. They want to replace it with “government of organizations,” including Hamas and the Popular Front. This was at the center of the talks between Hamas’ Khaled Mashal and Ismail Haniyeh on the one hand, and Fatah’s Abbas on the other. However, since then, there has been a break in talks between the PA and the Popular Front. Meanwhile, a picture posted by Iran, showing Haniyeh as the Palestinian leader of the al-Aqsa “liberation,” must have cooled the enthusiasm, if any, for a deal with Hamas.

A painting posted by Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei showing “Jerusalem’s liberators” on the Id al-Fitr holiday. Hamas’ Ismael Haniyeh is in the first row, second from the right, between Hizbullah’s Hassan Nasrallah and, presumably, Palestinian Imam Ekrima Sabri, the former grand mufti of Jerusalem. Behind Nasrallah is Ziad Nakhala, head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. They stand beneath a heavenly cloud in the shape of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

If so, what will we see in the future from the Fatah-led government, considering the restrictions on a real war of terror? Possibly, another edition of “Popular Struggle” – stones, Molotov cocktails, and the like, if anything at all. In the absence of any real violent options, the Palestinian Authority will turn to a diplomatic struggle, dealing its cards with Jordan, Europe, and the Democratic Party in the United States.