The number of causalities in the conflict incited by Israel keeps on growing. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, as a result of the Israeli military campaign, over six thousand people in Palestine have been injured, and nearly 200 have been killed, including at least 58 children. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reported that over 38,000 residents of Palestine sought shelter at UN facilities across the Gaza Strip, and the number of internally displaced individuals is rising with each day.
At present, many inhabitants of Israel and Palestine live in fear. Social networking websites are full of posts describing horrors of the ongoing conflict, with people being forced into bomb shelters on hearing the sound of air raid sirens, which serve as a warning to run and hide from shrapnel and other debris that could maim and kill.
Air strikes targeting the Gaza Strip and clashes along the Palestinian West Bank are continuing for the second week in a row despite calls from international organizations and world leaders for a cease-fire. After the Israeli security cabinet met on May 16, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an address to the nation that the campaign against terrorist organizations was “continuing with full force”.
It is not surprising that the world has once again essentially divided into two warring, intransigent camps as a result of the escalation in tensions in this volatile region. According to one of them, headed by Joe Biden and supported by a number of leaders of USA’s ally nations, Israel has the right to defend itself. However, heads of numerous Muslim-majority countries have expressed an opposite point of view, blaming Israel for the rise in tensions and the start of the new intifada.
Nowadays, media outlets based in the Muslim world are not the only ones criticizing Israel’s aggressive policies towards its neighboring nations. After all, the Jewish state may not be able to handle consequences of its actions in the future. Unfair and harsh steps taken by Israeli officials towards the Arab population of East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War, have already led to a rapid escalation of the long-lasting Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The two opposing sides have conducted air raids and fired rockets against one another, which have resulted in numerous casualties.
In the current climate, a new international coalition comprised of countries of the Muslim world is seemingly being established in response to the Israeli aggression. And it may include not only Arab nations but also Turkey as well as Turkic countries, all aligned against the common “Zionist enemy”.
Unquestionably, many Israelis have their own points of view on the issue at hand, but these opinions are, of course, not always right. In this particular conflict, there is no universal understanding of truth per se, each individual essentially supports people who share their faith and live in the same homeland. And while it is important to respect Israel’s right to defend itself, one cannot remain indifferent to the plight of Palestinian families who were supposed to be evicted from their homes at the beginning of May, when Muslims were about to celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan and Israeli police forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Temple Mount on May 7 (the International Quds Day). Yet, there is an existing consensus on the importance of maintaining peace on Temple Mount, a holy place where the smallest changes in the balance of power between Jews and Muslims can lead to region-wide repercussions.
Undoubtedly, the time and place of yet another flare-up in tensions between Israelis and Palestinians were not chosen at random but in anticipation of easily foreseeable consequences.
In such a context, it is hard not to notice the timeliness of the events that have transpired as Benjamin Netanyahu, Chairman of the Likud, tries to hang on to power thanks to a future “triumphant victory”. The decision handed down by the court to evict four Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, not far from the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount, to be replaced by Jewish settlers lends support to the aforementioned theory. And this was set in motion after the Israeli Prime Minister failed to form a new governing coalition by May 4 deadline. The ruling angered the Arab population in Israel.
On May 5, 2021, President Reuven Rivlin gave a 28-day mandate to form a government to leader of the opposition, Yair Lapid. At the time, head of Yamina party Naftali Bennett did not rule out the possibility of joining the former’s coalition. Even before the conflict escalated, Yair Lapid had said that Benjamin Netanyahu could try to create a security incident in order to avoid imprisonment on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. A never-ending cycle of elections clearly benefits the current Prime Minister.
Afterwards, on May 7, 2021, Israeli police forces were ordered to attack worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex on Temple Mount, a decision that resulted in further escalation of violence and clashes between Israelis and Palestinians.
With his call to defend Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu has essentially achieved his political goal, as Naftali Bennett no longer supports a Yair Lapid-established government. In the current climate, the Israeli Prime Minister is trying hard to portray himself as a defender of the homeland, as he drives the nation towards its 5th (!) parliamentary election in two years with the aim of finally gaining enough seats in the Knesset to form a government and hopefully avoid punishment for charges pressed against him.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies and his staunch backing of USA’s plans and actions in the region undoubtedly benefit the White House. Hence, it is not surprising that Joe Biden and his team have, on more than one occasion, expressed their support for Israel’s right to defend itself, without mentioning the clearly provocative steps taken at the beginning of May towards Palestinians. In addition, the United States has prevented the UN Security Council from issuing a joint statement calling for an immediate cease-fire and condemning looming evictions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah district for a third time in a week.
It is also important to remember that the United States provides to Israel $1.9 billion annually to fund secret military operations against Iran and Arab countries of the Middle East. A substantial portion of this money is meant to finance counter-terrorism operations as well as Mossad’s and CIA’s clandestine programs. The US plans to provide Israel with over $40 billion until 2028.
The aforementioned actions taken by Benjamin Netanyahu with support from the White House have brought us to the brink of yet another war between Palestinians and Israelis. It is quite clear that anti-Israeli sentiments are on the rise in the Muslim world.
Governments have so far been able to manage this situation within their borders.
But it is getting worse with every passing day even in Israel. Protests staged by Israel’s Arab population (accounting for approximately 20% of the total) are increasing in intensity. There is growing unrest in cities, towns and areas with majority Arab populations (primarily in the northern region of Galilee). Places with a mix of Jewish and Arab inhabitants, from Haifa (the third largest city in Israel near Galilee) and Acre to Jaffa, Lod and Ramla in central and southern parts of the country are in the throes of protests and armed clashes between opposing sides. Reinforcements have been sent by the government to quell this unrest, as police and local authorities are unable to. However, so far Israeli military personnel have been prohibited from entering Arab quarters with their uniforms on so as to avoid being attacked. They are also “in passive reserve” and at any point can be deployed to both reinstate order in Israel’s internal areas and to take part in ground operations in Gaza. As a result, a threat of civil war is looming over Israel.
Hence, there is no present need to say that recent actions taken by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government are aimed at bringing long-term stability within and outside Israel.
Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.