Failure of Palestinian Governance and the Latest Conflict between Israel and Hamas
The chaotic state of Palestinian politics provided the backdrop for recent hostilities between Israel and Hamas. The Islamic militant group began missile attacks against Israel last month in response to clashes between police and Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and threatened eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. While President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party is the officially recognized leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the party’s legitimacy has all but disappeared as Hamas’ standing has risen. A 2015 poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research shows that 80% of Palestinians believe that “Palestine” is no longer the “Primary Arab cause,” and two-thirds believe that the PA is not doing all it can to protect Palestinians from Israel. Findings also suggest that 79% of Palestinians believe that the Authority is corrupt, borne out by 15 years without democratic elections.
The Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) strategy sought to minimize Hamas’ military capability by destroying the group’s ability to manufacture missiles; limiting the number of missiles launched; and neutralizing Hamas’ political influence. The operation eliminated over 766 key infrastructure targets and 25 militant leaders. As international pressures mounted, officials on both sides of the conflict initiated ceasefire negotiations. The United States was in close contact with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA President Abbas, however Egypt was the primary facilitator of the talks. Hamas originally established two mandatory conditions for a resulting agreement – first, that Israeli forces halt ‘incursions’ at and respect the Al-Aqsa Mosque and second, that Israel stop evictions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. The IDF showed little interest in meeting these demands, and the final deal brokered by the Egyptians was an unconditional ceasefire that took effect on May 21.
The Iron Dome missile defense system limited Israeli casualties and underscores Israel’s regional and global military and economic leadership. The result of Israeli innovation coupled with American largesse during the Obama Administration, Iron Dome has the capability to identify, track and destroy projectiles before they reach Israeli territory. During the recent violence, more than 3,400 missiles were fired into Israel, and Iron Dome intercepted over 90% of them, making it difficult for Hamas to exact meaningful damage. Although even with the system, Israel suffered 12 casualties. The United States is on track to complete a $735 million weapons transfer to Israel which will replenish munitions used in this conflict.
Israel and the United States have long enjoyed a strategic and economic partnership strengthened by a common set of values. The U.S. thrice vetoed a statement from the United Nations Security Council expressing concern over increasing violence and civilian casualties, however, the latest hostilities have strained the bilateral relationship. Far-left members of Congress have called on President Biden to condemn Israel’s actions, however the President reaffirmed Israel’s right to self-defense encouraging the protection of innocent civilians. President Biden supported the ceasefire, and in his remarks, he recognized the right of Palestinians and Israelis to live freely and securely, stating he will work in partnership with the PA “in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal.” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken headed to the region soon after the end of hostilities to oversee the progression of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, to ensure that Gazans receive immediate humanitarian assistance and to work with American allies to advance a two-state solution.
The original Hamas Covenant asserts that the nation of Israel “will continue to exist until Islam obliterates it.” The document continues, “there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad,” indirectly earning the group its designation as a terrorist organization and presenting a great impediment to the peace process. Israel, the PA, and international mediators have undertaken a failed series of past negotiations. The history of efforts began after the 1967 Six Day War through April 2014 and, when Trump took office, efforts were concentrated on economic aid and international recognition. Thankfully, neither political faction has been able to change Israel’s territorial integrity significantly. However, this stalemate has led to disappointment among Palestinians in their leadership, fueling sporadic attacks, particularly in Jerusalem. The lack of accountable Palestinian leadership is likely to cause greater violence and misery for the Palestinian people, possibly leading to the collapse of the PA.
Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have all signed the Abraham Accords, normalizing relations with the Jewish state. The Accords operate on the presumption that pressure will drive the PA to accept far less politically than it previously would have – a presumption that is not reflected in the reality on the ground. Egypt’s active role in ceasefire negotiations offers hope that regional security will be restored, however Arab nations should act in concert with the United States and Israel to expand the Accords and widen peace efforts.