On July 3rd, 2023, Israel raided a refugee camp in Jenin to confiscate weapons and kill suspected terrorists. The operation was met with Palestinian resistance, which escalated into fierce gun fights leaving 12 Palestinians dead. Despite only lasting till July 5th, the raid forcibly displaced 3,000 Palestinians and caused severe infrastructure damage within the camp. According to Al Jazeera, Israeli soldiers used bulldozers to destroy roads and make them unsuitable for vehicles. Furthermore, the municipality of Jenin announced that Israeli soldiers dismantled main water lines and electrical networks. Jenin has long been at the center of Palestinian resistance, housing members of the Islamist Jihad and Hamas, two prevalent terrorist groups in the region. While Israel has maintained that the raid was purely an anti-terrorism operation, many Palestinian activists believe it was an antagonistic act meant to fuel tensions. The far right Israeli government, headed by Netanyahu’s Likud and aligned right-wing parties, intends to expand settlements in the West Bank and react tougher to terrorist threats. Many suspect the recent raid will be used as a pretext to increase control in the areas ruled by the Palestinian Authority.
Zionism is a nationalistic movement that emerged in Central and Eastern Europe during the 19th century, which aimed to create an Israeli state in the then Ottoman controlled province of Palestine. Hundreds of thousands of Zionist Jews moved to the region throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. After World War I, with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Palestine fell under British control. Israel did not become a state until May 14, 1948, following the adoption of the UN partition plan, which sought to divide Israel and Palestine. The Partition Plan gave the Israeli state 56.7 percent of the land despite Jews only comprising 30 percent of the population at the time. The creation of the Israeli state in 1948 sparkled the first Israeli – Arab war, in which Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon invaded the newly formed state. Israel triumphed and the region was split into three sections: Gaza, the West Bank (of the Jordan River), and Israel. According to the Council of Foreign Relations, roughly 750,000 Palestinians were displaced as a result of the Israeli victory, which is known as the Nakba.
Following the creation of an Israeli State, tensions remained high between Israel, Palestine, and the Arab States. Various conflicts broke out over the coming decades, such as the Suez Crisis, the Six Day War, and Yom Kippur War. The Six Day War was particularly devastating for the Arab states as Israel made significant territorial gains, including the annexation of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. After roughly three decades of conflict, Arab-Israeli relations were finally normalized following the signing of the Camp David Accords in 1979. Egypt agreed to recognize the existence of an Israeli State and in exchange Cairo would regain control of the Sinai Peninsula. Normalization efforts between other Arab states continued over the following decades, with the most recent diplomatic triumph being the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020.
Various efforts have been made to improve relations between Israelis and Palestinians as well. The Oslo I Accords were signed following the First Intifada in 1987, in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians protested Israeli occupation. The Accords set up a framework for limited self-governance in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by creating the Palestinian Authority. In 1995, the Oslo II Accords expanded the powers of the Palestinian Authority and initiated the withdrawal of Israeli troops from six Palestinian cities. In 2000, roughly 3,000 Palestinians and a thousand Israelis died as a result of the Second Intifada. As a result of the violence, Israel built a wall around the West Bank despite condemnations from both the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice. Furthermore, Amnesty International reports that since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in 1967, more than 600,000 Israelis have settled onto Palestinian territory. Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law and have been condemned by the ICJ, are coupled with ruthless land confiscation policies which have in turn demolished approximately 50,000 homes.
Israel, possessing its most right wing government in history, is planning to escalate policies of land confiscation, intimidation, and surveillance. On January 9th, 2023, Israel’s controversial minister of national security Itamar Ben-Gvir ordered the police to confiscate all Palestinian flags in East Jerusalem, calling it a symbol of terrorism. On July 24th, Netanyahu (pressured by his aligned right wing parties) passed controversial judicial reforms that will greatly strengthen the power of the executive, despite opposition from hundreds of thousands of Israelis. According to Al Jazeera, the reforms will limit the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down laws, increase the government’s role in the appointment of judges, and will allow ministers to appoint their own legal advisers instead of independent professionals. Lacking any written constitution, these judicial reforms seriously threaten the state of Israel’s democracy and pose a grave threat to the human rights of all Palestinians.
Many see the most recent Israeli raid on Jenin as yet another escalation by the Israeli government to suppress the Palestinians. Ben Gvir, promising to be tough on terrorism, will likely use alleged threats as a pretext to exert further control on the West Bank and Gaza. This is a paradoxical strategy as increasingly aggressive policies fuel terrorism, as highlighted by the increasing support for Hamas and Islamist Jihad. The rising influence of terrorist groups within the occupied Palestinian territories undermine the Palestinian Authority, making the prospects of negotiations increasingly unlikely. According to the Israel Policy Forum, the Palestinian Authority is considering declaring bankruptcy due to decreased international aid and 11 million USD in monthly tax revenues withheld by Israel. Economic despair, lack of development, and increased violence will make Palestinian society progressively anarchical.
Although the international community does not have the ability to directly influence Israeli or Palestinian policy without violating their sovereignty, international aid does give foreign actors a substantial amount of leverage. Since World War II, Israel has been the largest recipient of U.S foreign aid, most of which has gone to its military. According to the BBC, Barack Obama signed an agreement that promised Israel 38 billion USD from 2017 to 2028, which would amount to 3.8 billion USD a year. Israel overwhelmingly uses the aid to strengthen its military, which is now one of the most advanced in the world. For example, in 2020 Jerusalem bought eight KC-46A Boeing ‘Pegasus’ aircrafts for approximately 2.4 billion USD using U.S aid.
The U.S has historically supported Israel to this extent for various domestic and geopolitical reasons. For example, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, their strength countered Soviet influence, it was profitable for U.S weapons manufacturers, and Israeli lobbying is strong. But since the recent judicial reforms have undermined democracy and the Soviet Union does not exist, the United States needs to reassess their aid to Israel. The Biden Administration should use its aid to Israel as leverage to push Jerusalem to change its policies regarding Palestine. Washington can threaten to take its aid away unless the judicial reforms are reversed and Jewish settlements are stopped from expanding. Furthermore, all aid should be contributed towards economic development rather than military hardware in the future.
Even though such reforms to aid Israel will be beneficial to the Palestinian cause and democracy within Israel, such foreign policy reforms are unlikely to occur without major public pressure. The Guardian reported that in 2022 Aipac, a pro-Israel lobbying group, poured 2.3 million USD into a Democratic primary race for an open congressional seat in Pennsylvania. Aipac, along with other lobbying groups, have been supporting moderate democrats that are less critical of Israel’s policies against Palestine. Furthermore, it should be expected that U.S weapons manufacturers will lobby in support of sending billions of dollars in military assistance as that is profitable to their industry. However, there has been growing awareness of the troubling Israeli policies both domestically and internationally. With enough public pressure, the U.S and other countries are likely to reconsider how their aid to Israel should be appropriated.
The international community must also support the Palestinian Authority if it is to reduce terrorism and protect human rights. Without a central government it will be nearly impossible for Israel and foreign actors to track the threat of terrorism. Furthermore, if violence flares up it will be extremely difficult for Israel to negotiate a deal if Palestine lacks functioning institutions. Acknowledging the many challenges the Palestinian Authority is already facing, the decreasing international aid could overwhelm the already weak government. According to Al Jazeera, the UN agency for Palestinian Refugees only provided 107 million USD of the 300 million USD needed to properly provide resources to refugee camps. Terrorist groups, supported by Iran, will likely take advantage of a weakened centralized government and wage violence on the Jewish people. In response to this crisis, the international community must strengthen the Palestinian institutions if violence is to be mitigated.