Prof. Efraim Inbar: It is too soon to call this an escalation.
by Keren Setton
Experts say internal Palestinian politics play a big role in tensions which have been rising in Israel and the Palestinian territories in recent days in a wave of violence.
After two deadly shootings carried out by Palestinian militants, Israeli forces began a crackdown in the West Bank which included a military incursion into the city of Ramallah.
On Thursday, two Israeli soldiers were killed in what Israel says was a shooting attack carried out by Islamic Hamas movement militants.
The two were shot dead outside the outpost Givat Asaf, northeast of Ramallah.
It was the second drive-by shooting occurred last week. The first resulted in the death of a four-day-old Israeli baby who was delivered prematurely after his pregnant mother was severely wounded in the attack.
Clashes ensued later between Israeli forces and Palestinian youths resulted in the death of a Palestinian protestor.
According to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), dozens of suspected terrorists were arrested throughout the West Bank and brought to Israel for interrogation in recent days.
“It is too soon to call this an escalation,” said Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies.
“People are trying to make political profit from the situation,” Inbar added.
Indeed, it was the first time in a long while in which right-wing Israelis demonstrated in front of the home of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Hundreds of protestors called for the resignation of Netanyahu who they believe is not responding harshly enough towards the Palestinians.
“We are done being quiet,” they chanted, as some burnt posters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Tensions in the West Bank came after Israel’s border with Gaza has been relatively calm in recent weeks.
Abbas, who fears Hamas will be strengthened in the West Bank at his expense, finds himself in a difficult position.
He maintains security cooperation with Israeli forces, but has been fighting an image of collaboration with Israel that has borne little fruit for him so far.
“Hamas is also trying to operate against the Palestinian Authority (PA). This is a constant struggle,” Inbar told Xinhua.
The rivalry between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah Party reached its peak in 2007, when Hamas violently took over the Gaza Strip from the hands of the Fatah. Since then, attempts on reconciliation have failed.
In recent years, Netanyahu’s government has been seen as more responsive to Hamas’ violence, especially in Gaza, than to Abbas’ attempts to make non-violent moves on the international diplomatic scene.
While Abbas has challenged Israel diplomatically, Netanyahu has all but shunned him.
Pictures of cash loaded suitcases flowing into Gaza through Israeli-controlled crossings in recent weeks are a signal to Palestinians in the West Bank that Israel is determined to ensure the survival of Hamas rule in Gaza.
The scenes of Israeli forces entering Ramallah, the hub of Palestinian governance and commerce, have not been seen in years.
“This was a harsh move on Israel’s part,” said Ronit Marzan, a researcher of Palestinian society and politics from the University of Haifa.
“The big question remains whether the PA will allow the armed militias of the Fatah to begin acting out against Israel. This will be a different ballgame,” Marzan told Xinhua.
“The PA is currently fighting for its political relevance and survival,” according to Marzan, who believes the PA will go to great lengths to curb Hamas in the West Bank in order to maintain its rule.
“The PA is a strategic asset to Israel,” she added.
Scenes of Israeli forces raiding shops and homes in the heartland of the PA are a difficult pill to swallow, even for supporters of Abbas’ more moderate line.
“Israel needs to stop weakening the PA…the weaker the PA will be, the less control it will have on its people and we will see more and more attacks against Israelis,” said Marzan.
The cycle needs to be broken: militant attacks in the West Bank that result in Israeli punishment towards the PA, weakening it and strengthening the Hamas which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist.
It is a complex situation with no apparent winners and so far, all sides are losing.