The West Bank On Fire? Ask The 'Pyromaniacs' In Netanyahu's Coalition
In the West Bank, tensions are at a new high after the death of a 15-year-old boy during a clash between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters. The incident, coupled with the growing influence Israel's far-right political figures and an intensified use of force, is pushing the region to a critical point.
PARIS — The last time the Israeli army used a combat helicopter against Palestinians in the West Bank was 18 years ago, during the second intifada. That's the sort of violence reached Monday in the northern West Bank town of Jenin, where an Israeli attack helicopter opened fire to free soldiers under attack.
The Israeli army had raided the center of Jenin to arrest a member of the Islamist movement Hamas. They were greeted by explosive devices and gunfire, which stoked a heated battle. Five Palestinians were killed and 91 wounded, as well as several Israeli soldiers. A Palestinian journalist clearly wearing a press insignia was hit in the abdomen.
The escalation may not stop there. Bezalel Smotrich, the far-right minister granted responsibility over the Palestinian territories, quickly tweeted: "We must put an end to one-off actions, and launch a vast anti-terrorist operation in northern Samaria" – the religious name for the West Bank. While settlers agree with this proposal, the army is apparently reluctant to carry out such a high-risk operation.
But this was not an isolated incident: it must be understood in the context of rising tensions in the West Bank – since the beginning of last year – even before the coalition with the extreme right.
Deadly clashes are multiplying, a sign of young Palestinians growing frustration in the absence of any political prospects, the increasing aggressiveness of Israeli settlers, and the total undermining of Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority.
In addition, they feel abandoned by the international community; including by Arab countries that have established relations with Israel despite the Palestinian impasse.
Israeli forces in an armored vehicle clash with Palestinians in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.
This explosive cocktail is now exacerbated by the far-right political figures in government linked to the settler movement, who are indispensable for Benyamin Netanyahu’s majority. The Prime Minister is multiplying his concessions to them. He has just announced the construction of 7,000 additional housing units in West Bank settlements, despite having promised the U.S. otherwise. Washington has made its displeasure known, but Netanyahu knows that he has enough support in the United States to get away with it.
Netanyahu is active on both fronts, domestic and Palestinian.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu announced that he intends to vote on the controversial judicial reform bill this week in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Three months ago, he postponed the process at the request of the President of the Hebrew State, who was conducting negotiations with the opposition.
These have now fallen through, and Netanyahu is determined to force it through, despite the huge demonstrations that take place every Saturday evening, demonstrating the polarization of public opinion.
Netanyahu is therefore active on both fronts, domestic and Palestinian. This is his usual strategy, but there is a risk of losing control of it all. There is certainly a pyromaniac-firefighter quality to this coalition, that includes ministers who do not hesitate to light fires in the name of ideology that others must rush to extinguish.
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