Why Israel has a strategic interest in escalating violence

5 min read
21 February, 2023

In 1982, a prominent Israeli strategic analyst, Avner Yaniv, coined the term “Palestinian peace offensive” to describe the risk that Palestinians would become too moderate politically and Israel would be forced to make concessions.

He urged using the "fiercest military pressures" against the PLO in Lebanon to undermine Palestinian moderates and make the PLO more hardline in order "to halt its rise to political respectability".

That pattern is now more salient in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, with analysts, experts, and politicians fearing that Israel’s far-right government is deliberately pushing towards an escalation in violence as a pretext for the most radical and dangerous policies on its agenda.

"The far-right ministers in the Israeli government are deliberately provoking this violence"

Earlier this month, the Israeli military sent dozens of military vehicles and bulldozers into Jericho's Aqabat Jabr refugee camp that wreaked havoc on the area, including bombing and bulldozing a house, all under the pretext of pursuing a single Palestinian suspect.

The week before, Israel raided the Jenin refugee camp with dozens of armoured vehicles, bulldozers, drones, soldiers, snipers, and helicopters under the pretext of arresting three individual suspects. The raid resulted in extensive damage to buildings and vehicles and the killing of ten Palestinians.

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The extreme disproportionality and excessive force in both raids on areas that are supposed to be under the Palestinian Authority’s full civil and security control raised many questions. Especially given that the PA routinely arrests suspects on Israel’s orders as part of its security coordination.

Furthermore, while complaining about rising Palestinian armed resistance, the Israeli government recently banned young Palestinians from attending peace-building meetings in Israel.

Political and social mural paintings on the Israeli West Bank barrier in Bethlehem on 10 April 2014. [Getty]
Israel has escalated punitive measures against Palestinians in recent months. [Getty]

Preferring violence over calm

“This is the worst government in the history of the region,” Dr Mustafa al-Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s leadership, told The New Arab. “It’s not just racist and extremist, but it also represents the result of a marriage between Israeli nationalist extremism and radical religious fundamentalism.”

Retired Israeli Brigadier General Ephraim Sneh believes Israeli far-right ministers are deliberately provoking violence and tensions out of political expediency. “Why would [Ben-Gvir] reduce the shower time of Palestinian prisoners down to 4 minutes each?” he told The New Arab. “They want to see all of this land in flames.”

Sneh fears that extremist ministers are “dragging us towards a nationwide ethnic conflict,” and maintains that the 2021 escalation across Jerusalem, Israel, and Gaza, instigated by Itamar Ben-Gvir, is why the far-right got so many seats in the Knesset in the first place.

"Netanyahu's new government wants to maintain an open war against Palestinians on all levels in order to impose new realities on the ground"

Last month, Israel’s National Security Minister and convicted terror supporter Ben-Gvir banned Palestinian prisoners from baking bread. In early February, he posted a TikTok clip of himself eating freshly baked bread in celebration that Palestinian prisoners were not allowed any.

“This is only the beginning of the beginning,” Ben-Gvir said. The controversial clip got over 25,000 likes, 660,000 views and 1,200 comments in Israel, reflecting how using extreme measures against Palestinians is a route towards political popularity.

Exploiting violence to deny Palestinian statehood

“The far-right ministers in the Israeli government are deliberately provoking this violence,” Dr Hussein Ibish, Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute, recently said in an interview with France 24.

“I think they want it to happen, and they want to stoke it, because they want to increase settlements, they want to use it as an excuse, even though there is no logical connection between [the two].”

After Israel’s deadly raid on Jenin, a young Palestinian shot dead seven Israelis near a Synagogue in the Neve Yaakov settlement in occupied East Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s cabinet used the incident to push for significant settlement expansion, increasing and accelerating Palestinian home demolitions, and arming Israeli settlers.

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Ben Gvir ordered raising the number of issued gun permits from 2,000 a month to 10,000. Last week, Israel’s government cited Palestinian violence as punitive grounds for further approving the biggest settlement expansion in years, which included legalising nine outposts that are considered illegal under Israel’s own law.

“In the long run, they are looking for an excuse to annex large chunks of the West Bank and expel Palestinians from some or all of the annexed area and do it all with a heavy heart as an unfortunate military necessity to protect Israeli settlers,” Ibish concluded.

Barghouti shares a similar concern. He told The New Arab that “for this Israeli government, keeping Palestinians provoked is more important than maintaining calm. This is a racist and fascist government that wants to destroy the future of the entire Palestinian population and annex the West Bank”.

Dr Wasel Abu Yousef, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee similarly argues that Netanyahu’s new government wants to “maintain an open war against Palestinians on all levels in order to impose new realities on the ground”.

Netanyahu has assembled the most far-right government in Israel's history. [Getty]

He told The New Arab that “it’s in this government’s best interest that the escalation continues. The longer the escalation goes, the more realities it can impose on the ground”.

Israeli, Palestinian, and international experts are gravely worried that the Israeli far right is going to dramatically escalate provocations during Ramadan and Passover next month, particularly at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and in East Jerusalem, which could ignite a wider escalation.

“This fascist right-wing Israeli government thinks that the time is right to end the conflict instead of managing it, by definitively destroying the two-state solution and Palestinian statehood,” Dr Sufian Abu Zaida, a former PA Minister and PLO leader, said in a recent interview.

Abu Zaida believes the crushing force Israel is using against Palestinians is part of its agenda to “impose full control over the West Bank” while “killing any form of Palestinian resistance”.

Muhammad Shehada is a Palestinian writer and analyst from Gaza and the EU Affairs Manager at Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor.

Follow him on Twitter: @muhammadshehad2