A man without a strategy: How Netanyahu is provoking armed Intifada in the West Bank

Ramzy Baroud

Middle East Monitor  /  May 30, 2023

After signing a military decree on 18 May, allowing illegal Israeli Jewish settlers to reclaim the abandoned Homesh settlement located in the northern Occupied West Bank, the Israeli government has informed the US Biden Administration that it will not turn the area into a new settlement.

The latter revelation was reported by Axios on 23 May. This contradiction is hardly surprising. While Israel’s far-right ministers, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, know precisely what they want, Netanyahu is trying to perform an impossible political act: he wants to fulfil all the wishes of Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, but without veering off from the US political agenda in the Middle East, and without creating the circumstances that could eventually topple the Palestinian Authority.

Moreover, Netanyahu wants to normalize with Arab governments, while continuing to colonize Palestine, expand settlements and have complete control over Al-Aqsa Mosque and other Palestinian Muslim and Christian holy shrines.

Worse still, he wants, per the insistence of Ben-Gvir and his extremist religious constituency, to repopulate Homesh and create new outposts, while avoiding an all-out armed rebellion in the West Bank.

Concurrently, Netanyahu wants good relations with the Arabs and Muslims, while constantly humiliating, oppressing and killing Arabs and Muslims.

Indeed, such a feat is virtually impossible.

Netanyahu is not a novice politician who is failing at appeasing all his target audiences simultaneously. He is a right-wing ideologue, who uses the Zionist ideology and religion as the foundation of his political agenda. Anywhere else, especially in the Western world, Netanyahu would have been perceived to be a far-right politician.

One of the reasons that the West is yet to brand Netanyahu as such is that if there is a general agreement that Netanyahu is an affront to democracy, it would be difficult to engage with him diplomatically. While the likes of Italy’s far-right government of Giorgia Meloni, hosted Netanyahu last March, US President Joe Biden is yet to meet the Israeli leader in person, months after the latter composed his latest government of far-right religionists.

Netanyahu is aware of all these challenges, and that his country’s reputation, even among allies, is in tatters. The Israeli leader, however, is determined to persevere, for his own sake.

It took five elections in four years for Netanyahu to assemble a relatively stable government. New elections carry risks, as the opposition leader, Yair Lapid, is slated to win a majority of seats, if a sixth election is held.

But satisfying Ben-Gvir and others is turning Israel into a country governed by populist, nationalist leaders determined on instituting a religious war. Judging by the evidence on the ground, they might get what they want.

The truth is neither Ben-Gvir nor Smotrich has Netanyahu’s political savvy or experience. Rather, they are the political equivalent of bulls in a China shop. They want to sow the seeds of chaos and use the mayhem to further their agenda: more illegal settlements, more ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and, ultimately, a religious war.

Due to these pressures, Netanyahu, with an expansionist agenda of his own, is unable to follow a clear blueprint regarding how to fully annex large parts of the West Bank and render Palestinians permanently stateless. He cannot develop and maintain a consistent strategy because his allies have a strategy of their own. And, unlike Netanyahu, they care little for overstepping their boundaries with Washington, Brussels, Cairo or Amman.

This must be frustrating for Netanyahu who, through over 15 years in office, has developed an effective strategy based on several equilibriums. While slowly colonizing the West Bank and maintaining a siege and occasional wars in Gaza, he also learned to feign the language of peace and reconciliation internationally.

Though he had his own troubles with Washington in the past, Netanyahu often prevailed, with the support of the US Congress. And though he provoked Arab, Muslim and African countries on numerous occasions, he still managed to normalize ties with many of them.

His was a winning strategy, which he bragged about shamelessly at every election campaign. But it seems that the party is finally over.

Netanyahu’s new political agenda is now motivated by a single objective: his own survival or, rather, that of his family, several members of which are implicated by charges of corruption and nepotism. If the current Israeli government collapses under the weight of its own contradictions and extremism, it would be nearly impossible for Netanyahu to recover his position. If far-right parties abandon Netanyahu’s Likud, Israel will sink even deeper into a seemingly unending political crisis and social turmoil.

For now, Netanyahu will have to stay the course – that of unprovoked wars, deadly raids on the West Bank, attacks on holy shrines, repopulating or establishing new illegal settlements, allowing armed settlers to unleash daily violence against Palestinians and so on, regardless of the consequences of these actions.

One of these consequences is widening the armed rebellion to reach the rest of the Occupied West Bank.

For a few years now, the armed struggle phenomenon has been growing across the West Bank. In areas like Nablus and Jenin, armed Resistance groups have grown in power to the point that the PA is left with little control over these regions.

This phenomenon is also an outcome of the lack of a true Palestinian leadership that invests more in representing and protecting Palestinians against Israeli violence, rather than engaging in ‘security coordination’ with the Israeli military.

Now that Ben-Gvir and Smotrich’s followers are wreaking havoc in the West Bank in the absence of any protection for Palestinian civilians, Palestinian fighters are adopting the role of protectors. The Lions’ Den is a direct manifestation of this reality.

For Palestinians, armed resistance is a natural response to military occupation, apartheid and settler violence. It is not a political strategy per se. For Israel, however, violence is a strategy.

For Netanyahu, the frequent deadly raids on Palestinian towns and refugee camps translate into political assets that allow him to keep his extremist supporters happy. But this is short-term thinking. If Israel’s unchecked violence continues, the West Bank could soon find itself in an all-out military uprising against Israel and an open rebellion against the PA.

Then, no magic trick or balancing act by Netanyahu can possibly control the outcomes.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle; his latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappé, is Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak out