Since April 2019, Israel has had four elections and each time Benjamin Netanyahu has failed to form a stable government. This time, after the March 23 elections, Netanyahu again failed to form a government by the May 4 deadline, and had to give Yair Lapid’s party, with the second highest mandate, the chance to form a coalition. By May 9, it seemed that Lapid and Naftali Bennett were coming close to forming a government. This was perhaps unacceptable for Netanyahu — who has been in government since 1996, and has been the prime minister for the last five consecutive terms — and for the extreme right-wing of Israel that supports Netanyahu.
Netanyahu had to create an ultra-right-wing emergency-type situation that could save him his power, even if it would mean raising hell unbound. Precedence for a Palestinian-Israeli clash is not hard to find. On May 6, the Israeli Supreme Court was going to announce a decision for the forced evictions of four more Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem — as expected clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers broke and spread throughout Jerusalem by the evening. Clashes continued on May 8, when Israeli police kept striking at Palestinian protesters that kept chanting ‘Strike Tel Aviv’, ‘in spirit and in blood, we will redeem al-Aqsa!’, injuring 80 protestors.
Then came May 9, when the Israeli police stormed the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, firing stun grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets at worshippers, injuring 215.
The next day, at 5pm, Hamas made an unprecedented act. It issued a one-hour ultimatum to Israel, calling on its forces to end their month-long aggression against Muslim worshippers in the Al Aqsa Mosque; refrain from displacing Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah; and release Palestinian prisoners detained in this time. Israel was dumbfounded, it being the strongest army in the region, had never received such an ultimatum from Hamas before. When the hour passed, seven rockets were launched towards Israeli settlements in occupied Jerusalem.
Relentless in their apartheidic policies, Israel attacked Al Aqsa again, and Hamas gave another ultimatum. Between May 10 and 11, Hamas and Islamic Jihad had reportedly fired over 400 rockets at Israel. Of course, Israel responded with airstrikes into Gaza, killing 24 Palestinians and wounding 103 more.
What Hamas had done was to prove its leadership over the whole of Palestine, giving the message to West Bank Palestinians that it will retaliate when they are hurt; that it will turn Israel’s fury towards itself, when it has targeted Palestinians; and that it will protect them, even from a distance. Hamas essentially mobilised all of the Palestinian community, beyond Gaza.
Though Hamas has always had tensions with the Fatah party of the West Bank, and Mahmoud Abbas has always insisted that Hamas should let the Palestinian Authority control Gaza, Hamas has always resisted, quoting itself to be the democratically elected party of Gaza. Hamas, being a stronger resistance force compared to a relatively docile Fatah, has been receiving funds from a wide spectrum of individuals from the West Bank, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and even Iran and for this reason, opposing camps can be wary of Hamas’ affiliations. Yet, its relentless resistance, and confrontation of the Israeli forces every now and then has won the hearts of many Palestinians in the West Bank too.
In 2020, following Trump’s peace plan aka the “deal of the century”, the Palestinian Authority decided to coordinate its struggle against what Abbas called the “slap of the century”, with Hamas. In September that year, Abbas held a joint press conference with Hamas leaders, announcing a new dialogue for a unity government and new elections. This step has further united the two parties in Gaza and the West Bank, but only until Abbas decided to postpone elections in fear of a Hamas victory and increased influence in the West Bank — reissuing tensions between the two.
But this time it looks like that even the Arab communities living inside Israel in Jaffa, Haifa, Ramlah and Lod have joined the Palestinian resistance. Arab demonstrators in retaliation set dozens of vehicles and a synagogue on fire in confrontations with police in Lod and the city’s mayor described the situation as a ‘civil war’. In Ramlah, ultra-nationalist Jews attacked cars belonging to Arabs; in Acre, protesters torched a Jewish-owned restaurant and hotel.
By Wednesday, May 12, over 1,000 rockets from Gaza had landed in Tel Aviv, Lod, Beer Sheba and other areas.
Many in Israel are criticising Netanyahu for making foolish mistakes, starting from allowing the police to barricade the Damascus Gate, frequented by Palestinian Muslims at night after the breaking of the Ramazan fast. Young Palestinians responded with firecrackers and confronted the police. At this, Shin Bet intervened and removed the barricades. Next, on May 10, after the Hamas ultimatum, the route of the Jerusalem Day flag-dance parade was changed — in both instances the Palestinians felt that Israel has caved in to their pressure, and they protested with greater strength.
It is not clear if Netanyahu has been committing folly or if these have been deliberate mistakes, made in desperation of clinging on to a weakening power. In either case, Netanyahu’s will to cling on to power is such that the whole of Palestine and Jerusalem can be lit up with fire and blood once again!
Indeed, many including the UN Middle East envoy, Tor Wennesland, who tweeted, “Stop the fire immediately. We’re escalating towards a full-scale war”, are fearing yet that another spiral of wars could be ignited in the region, or at the very least an Intifada could be unleased in the West Bank and Gaza. And once again, Israel will find the reason to target Palestinians with their snipers, their strikers and their stealths to kill innocent Palestinians, who haven’t any place to run to, and have only blood to spill, in the streets that have witnessed the blood of many men of God before!
But that doesn’t worry Netanyahu. He is ready for a prolonged escalation and has said that the campaign against ‘militants’ in Gaza will ‘take time’. Hamas spokesman Abu Ubeida, on the other hand, is more than defiant and ready. He said, “we are ready for this battle and we have enough equipment and plans for a very long battle.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 18th, 2021.