A new generation of Palestinians is emerging to resist Israel
In 2022, the occupied West Bank has become a deadly battleground between Palestinians and the Israeli army.
Since March, Palestinian attacks against Israelis have escalated, both in the West Bank and Israel, killing at least 18 Israelis.
Israeli officials say that there have been 130 shootings in the West Bank so far in 2022, an increase from 98 in 2021, while 312 operations have been thwarted.
Israel has responded by launching ‘Operation Breakwater’, carrying out over 2,200 raids and arrest operations largely targeting the cities of Nablus and Jenin.
At least 90 Palestinians, including women and children, have been killed during these raids, according to official Palestinian statistics, with 2022 on course to be the deadliest year for the West Bank since 2015.
During the same period, nearly 7,000 Palestinians have been injured, according to United Nations statistics.
"The PA is doing nothing on the ground for us, its main role is protecting the settlers and implementing Israeli orders"
The Palestinian Authority's absence
The significant increase in attacks carried out by Palestinians who are not affiliated with local political factions demonstrates the increasing security vacuum in the occupied West Bank.
Political analysts say that the current escalation can be traced back to Israel’s violations of its agreements with the Palestinian Authority (PA) during the rule of late president Yasser Arafat, which has left the PA weakened.
Following the Oslo Accords in 1993 the occupied West Bank was divided into three areas: Area A, under full PA control, Area B, under Israeli security and PA administrative control, and Area C, under full Israeli security and administrative control. Area C accounts for around 60% of the West Bank.
Palestinians, in theory, were to establish self-governance and build state institutions, and a phased Israeli military withdrawal would take place.
This has never happened, with Israel’s 55-year military rule over the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem one of the longest occupations in modern history.
Part of the Oslo Accords also obligated the PA to fight ‘terrorism’ by adopting security cooperation with Israel.
While beneficial for Tel Aviv, which has praised the PA on various occasions for thwarting attacks, it has created widespread animosity between the Palestinian people and their leaders, who have been accused of being subcontractors for Israel’s security.
"During the Arafat era, we [the PA] were strong and were able to extract our demands from Israel by force. In the event that Israel did not abide by the agreements […] Arafat was unleashing the resistance men to carry out military operations against Israel,” a senior PA official, who preferred to remain anonymous, told The New Arab.
“This is why the PA before 2005 enjoyed political, security, and social power. We were struggling to improve our political life, whether at the local or international level first,” the official added.
Since Arafat’s death in 2004, the dynamics have changed, he explained, adding that Mahmoud Abbas’ strategy is based on political negotiation without the use of military resistance.
Amid a diplomatic standstill, the PA has since transformed into an Israeli tool of oppression against Palestinians, the official added.
Internal Palestinian divisions
In 2007, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip witnessed deadly infighting as Hamas and Fatah militants fought each other for weeks, killing over 600 people.
Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in 2006, had been boycotted by the international community following their victory for refusing to renounce violence, recognise Israel, and abide by previous agreements.
As a result, international aid to the PA was cut and the US refused to recognise Hamas’ win or allow it to participate in any Palestinian government.
"We have a new generation who do not believe in the ideology of the Palestinian factions or the PA"
The subsequent factional fighting in Gaza effectively split the Palestinian national movement, with all subsequent Arab and international mediation having failed to mend the rift.
As a result, analysts say that Israel has effectively blackmailed the PA leadership into deeper security coordination by arguing that confronting Palestinian resistance movements is pivotal to ensuring Fatah’s survival and preventing Hamas from mounting a leadership challenge in the West Bank.
According to a senior Palestinian official who wished to remain anonymous, this has simply led Palestinians to lose all confidence in institutions affiliated with the PA.
“We have lost our credibility with our people and have become agents of Israel. People look at us with disapproval and often accuse us of treason," the official said.
Mohammed, a Jenin-based fighter, told The New Arab that Palestinian security services have made several offers to him to give up his arms in exchange for a guarantee that he wouldn’t be touched. He says he has refused all such offers.
"The PA is doing nothing on the ground for us, its main role is protecting the settlers and implementing Israeli orders," he told TNA.
"Because of the failure of the PA, Israel is escalating its crimes against our people and our resistance. They - Israel and the PA - want to end the resistance in all its forms,” the young man, who has been involved in confrontations with the Israeli army, said.
“I will resist both sides," he stressed.
Jenin and Nablus
The Israeli army is currently intensifying its military activity in the cities of Jenin and Nablus, which are under the full control of the PA.
Ashraf al-Ajrami, a Ramallah-based political analyst, said that sweeping operations, arrests, killings, house demolitions, ongoing settlement building, and repeated settler attacks on Palestinians and their property have not achieved any level of security for Israel.
“The continuation of Israeli crimes that violate human rights in the West Bank will only bring a Palestinian reaction that may lead to a comprehensive explosion if Israel continues to bury its head in the sand,” he said.
So far, he explained, Israel has simply managed to create a weakened PA, stressing that Israeli officials cannot expect Palestinians to accept this reality. “Neither local residents or officials, mainly those who lost their relatives, will keep quiet for much longer.”
PA Minister of Civil Affairs and Secretary General of the PLO's executive committee, Hussein Al-Sheikh, has also accused Israel of weakening the Palestinian Authority through its continuous military operations so far this year.
"It is not true that the Palestinian security services are weak. The Israelis think that the Israeli army works [in the West Bank] at night and our security services work during the day. We cannot work when the Israeli army raids our cities, arresting and killing people,” he said.
"Because of the failure of the PA, Israel is escalating its crimes against our people and our resistance. They - Israel and the PA - want to end the resistance in all its forms"
What comes next?
In August, Palestinians carried out 172 attacks in the West Bank, including 23 shooting incidents and 135 cases of throwing Molotov cocktails or homemade devices, according to data published by the Israeli Shin Bet.
Some Palestinian observers believe that current conditions in the occupied West Bank are similar to those preceding the First Intifada in 1987 and the Second Intifada in 2000.
“We have a new generation who do not believe in the ideology of the Palestinian factions or the PA,” Hani al-Masri, a Ramallah-based analyst, told TNA.
He says that the West Bank is witnessing the beginnings of a new movement characterised by spontaneous and individual actions.
"It is natural that we witness fierce Palestinian resistance in order to fill the void created by the absence of Palestinian resistance factions, and as a natural reaction to Israel's aggressive escalation to establish facts aimed at strengthening the Israeli presence,” he explained.
Ismat Mansour, a Ramallah-based analyst, agrees. He says the PA’s weakness will contribute to the emergence of a new generation which is ready to resist Israel by itself.
“Israel holds full responsibility for the current conditions […] Palestinians will not forget their cause or their right to live in an independent state,” Mansour said.
Sally Ibrahim is a Palestinian reporter with The New Arab based in the Gaza Strip