23 January 2020

2020 in Israel and the Palestinian Territories - The peace that does not come. And the elections that get postponed all over again

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

For the developments speculated for 2020 in the region, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, it will work a different logic, marked by the transition period from “Netanyahu era” to “no-Bibi governance”, most likely through significant changes in terms of political doctrines, however full of meanings in terms of their approach. There is a huge awaiting possibility in the Palestinian community as well, as leaders are trained, maybe more than ever, for compromises due to tense social and humanitarian situation, particularly in Gaza Strip, who are waiting for changes within the PNA leadership, but who, lacking of such changes, can, again, lead to a conflict, after a six-year break. Israel- security issues stay, regardless of who will be prime-minister, Benny or Benjamin

Image source: Mediafax

2019 was an good year for Israel in terms of economy, the security challenges were fewer than the past years, the internal political debate was normal for a democratic society and debates, which are managing their issues well. Still, the scars left for 2020 is not easy at all. While I am writing this analysis, it is still not clear if, in the new year, Netanyahu will have a full mandate of Benny Gantz will take advantage on the third electoral campaign in the past eight months to get the power by April.

And the electoral campaign starts under the drama of effective prime-minister, who was charged at the end of last year, but who did not get to be in front of the Court, as he asked for immunity. The juridical game, however, allows the parliamentary opposition to enter the scene and hurry prime-minister Netanyahu’s meeting with the judges.

As for the public opinion, no changes ahead in terms of the support for one of the candidates. The Israeli public opinion is more careful with country’s management than with political actors’ files, but, still, they cannot neglect one or more corruption allegations.

As September elections’ results showed, the political tendency does not favour Benjamin Netanyahu’s and Likud Party’s position, therefore, if the current tendency continues, they may have a center-right coalition, with little support from the left side.

So, from a political perspective, the situation is a continuation of Netanyahu’s right policies, slowly marked by Gantz.

The year 2020 will be the year the Israeli society will, most likely, have to filter the ideological breach is experiencing, where the right-wing, successful in terms of economy or security policies, has produced, at the same time, deep internal failures, between left and right, between immigrants from the Mediterranean area and those from the former Soviet territory.  The secularism, already declared and strongly supported by Yisrael Beiteinu, the party led by Avigdor Lieberman, has led to two repeated parliamentary elections and to firm objections from religious parties. The result was a year of political deadlock that may not end after the parliamentary elections to take place this spring.

The year 2020 will also be the year when peace plan’s viability proposed by the American negotiating team will be verified. After all the Israeli electoral cycles will belong to the past, it would be time for this plan’s public presentation, given elections’ fluidity release. They enter, however, in an electoral carousel for almost a year, at plan’s initiators home, the American side. Trump’s team, challenged by impeachment issues, unseen in the post-Clinton period, will use all its energy for its own electoral path, threatened to be undermined by internal political struggle. Is there anything left for the promotion of the peace plan? Most likely, quite a bit.

2020 will be the year of major security issues’ solution

  1. In Southwest, the situation in Gaza Strip continues to get worse, not only from an economic and social point of view, but also from the military build-up, the internal competition between Hamas and Islamic Jihad. For now, developments are aimed at keeping the situation under control, a result of both the need for new Hamas leaders to stabilize and reach an agreement with Israel, and the usefulness of a peace period during the pre-election period for the current Israeli prime minister. In order to stay in power, he needs to focus on internal challenges, more dangerous to his political future than a new conflict in Gaza;
  2. In the North, in addition to Hezbollah’s threat, Iran’s threat is strengthened, which consolidates its positions in Syria, in its Southern regions, leaving Russia the Central and Northern part. The post-Soleimani period will pose many unknowns. Hezbollah is a common Lebanese creation - being the expression of a local Shiite community historical frustration - and Iranian, through the support given for going through difficult times in organization’s life. It is, at the same time, a radical grouping, but also a pragmatic one. It is unclear, at this time, whether Tehran will not ask for group’s activation towards Israel in the next period, in order to avenge the assassination of al-Quds Force leader, or whether Hezbollah will respond to this valuable call. But the situation is enough tense and unpredictable, so that Israel does not pay special attention to it.

2020 will be the year Israel will have to reaffirm its strategic partnership with US, given that a number of Washington decisions have created discussions on its distance from Middle East issues. Trump administration’s recent decisions, aimed at protecting Israel, are sometimes made, without even anticipating possible collateral developments, some of them negative for Jewish state’s security. Pushing the limits, by eliminating Iranian leader Qassem Soleimani on the territory of a partner state, of course argued for security reasons, calls into question US’s military presence in Iraq, an undesirable perspective for Israelis. And, while Israel is extremely vocal against Tehran, it knows from its own historical experience that states pushed into deadlock situations, are much more firm and difficult to predict.

Israel's new neighbour, Russia, which, alike USSR’s case, chooses its own neighbourhoods, although it remains an equally necessary partner for the Jewish state, nevertheless has other political lines and diplomatic priorities in relations with the Arab world than the US, with far more gray areas for dialogue. And it is the community of Eastern European Jews that is now moving political clocks in Israel.

But by then, Israel will already have to solve the dilemma "new parliamentary elections or new government".

Palestinian Territories - a wire-balance

In 2019, the Palestinian territories had a secondary plan in the regional evolution, unusual but not necessarily with negative connotations, having a certain balance between the combatant structures and those interested in reducing economic and social tensions.

Not even the change of Hamas leaders with people from the military structures of the organization has not changed this situation, as Gaza Strip’s situation asks rather for humanitarian than a combatant approach.

But 2019’s interim will probably not continue in 2020. Its resolution does not necessarily mean the re-emergence of a new conflict with Israel, an evolution that would be normal considering these confrontations’ frequency, but a negotiated resolution can also take place, based on an agreement between Israel and Hamas. They need this agreement because the situation in Gaza is close to escalation, an undesirable prospect for either party. The agreement is encouraged by both Hamas leaders and the two states that can influence developments in the Gaza Strip, Israel and Egypt. But this perspective is always unpredictable, as long as Israel does not yet have an option to exit conflict with Hamas, and Hamas cannot be eradicated enough without risking losing authority over the two million Palestinians crammed into the wilderness and big.

The political situation at the peak of Palestinian National Authority asks for a clarification that can no longer be delayed. The elections announced for this year, both parliamentary and presidential, although still unconfirmed as development period, could contribute to this. It is one of the promises made by ANP president, Mahmoud Abbas, from UN’s tribune, to end a period that began in 2005, when Palestinian voters did not come to the polls.

The peace plan, even in its paper form, brought to the attention of Palestinian leaders, allowed Abbas a strong opposition to alleged American proposals, which repositioned in front of a public legitimacy within the Palestinian community, previously used to his peaceful position against Israeli actions. That is why the current Palestinian leader, despite his age (85 years), remains Fatah's main choice for presidential elections.

The Israeli right strength, its powerful lobby near US and Russia, pushed the Palestinian authorities in a defence position wherefrom, for now, they have not been able to build a coherent preservation project of Palestinian community’s rights and aspirations.

This was done earlier, of course in another political and security framework, by Israeli Arab leaders who succeeded in mobilizing superior electoral backgrounds, (re)becoming the third political party in Israel.

It is unclear, however, whether their example of mobilizing and changing the generation of leaders will also be followed in the Palestinian Territories. From this perspective, 2020 does not seem too bright.

Translated by Andreea Soare