With the world’s eyes understandably focused on the carnage in the Gaza Strip, violent manifestations of the Israel-Palestinian conflict in the Israeli-occupied West Bank have been getting even less attention than they normally get, and less than they deserve. Amid concerns about possible spreading of the current war in Gaza, spreading already has begun in the West Bank, with the potential there of stimulating still more spread.
Casualties have spiked in the West Bank since the Hamas attack on October 7. More than 100 Palestinians, including civilians, have been killed there.
Most of the casualties have been incurred as part of accelerated operations in the West Bank by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), in the form of raids, mass arrests, and crackdowns on protests. The stepped-up Israeli use of force has even included an airstrike on a mosque in a refugee camp in the city of Jenin — a rarity in the West Bank, where the Israelis usually rely on ground forces.
Additional violence has come at the hands of Israeli settlers — some of the 670,000 Israelis whose residence in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem is widely recognized as a violation of international law. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recorded in just the first two weeks of the current crisis 100 attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinian residents. The U.N. office noted that this represented an average of almost eight such incidents per day, up from a daily average of three incidents since the beginning of this year.
The connection between this settler violence and the events this month in southern Israel and the Gaza Strip has two aspects. One is that Israeli anger over the Hamas attack and the blurring of such emotion into a general hatred of Palestinian Arabs has made the current moment even more of an open season on Palestinians than it was before. The second is that the current focus of attention on Gaza among the press, foreign governments, and the world generally has represented an opportunity for settlers to conduct violent and illegal business in the West Bank while drawing little notice. Mairav Zonszein, an Israel-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, notes that a difference between now and before is that the settler violence is occurring “without almost any media attention being paid to it.”
These developments are a continuation, in intensified form, of longer trends in the physical suffering of West Bank Palestinians. Many of the nearly 1,600 deaths of Palestinians at the hands of Israelis between 2015 (that is, since the last big Israeli attack on Gaza in 2014) and August of this year were in the West Bank. The violence accelerated in 2023, even before October 7. This year was already on pace to be the deadliest year for residents of the West Bank since the United Nations began keeping such records in 2005.
The upsurge in Israeli violence in the West Bank clearly is related to the coming to power at the beginning of this year of an extreme right-wing Israeli government. Far from policing or discouraging the settler violence, the de facto Israeli response often has been to permit or condone it, with IDF soldiers standing aside or even participating in some of the violence. One of the most prominent of the extremists currently in power, minister of national security Itamar Ben-Gvir — himself a West Bank settler — promised to distribute as many as 10,000 free rifles to Israeli citizens, including West Bank settlers.
All this is part of a longer-term process of one people, defined in ethnic and religious terms, subjugating another people similarly defined, and of the determination of successive Israeli governments to maintain Jewish Israeli supremacy over all the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Part of the formula for doing this has been to cordon off some two million of the Arab residents into the Gaza Strip and to rely on blockades, periodic “mowing the grass ” with military force, and an occasional misery-alleviating sop to keep those Arabs from interfering with Israeli ambitions. The Hamas attack, of course, shattered some of the assumptions underlying that strategy.
The other part of the formula has been the piecemeal displacement of West Bank Palestinians from their land. Although much of the settler violence manifests simple hatred and bigotry, much of it is a more calculated effort to make life for Palestinian neighbors so miserable — or so uneconomic, given settler tactics such as vandalism of olive groves or denial of water and pastures needed by herded livestock — that those neighbors will give up and move. The accelerated anti-Palestinian settler activity this month has included much of this kind of intimidation. The Israeli human rights watchdog organization B’Tselem reported earlier this month that in the previous week, eight entire West Bank communities, numbering 472 people, had abandoned their homes out of fear for their lives and livelihoods.
The current war, replete with Israeli orders for millions of Gaza residents to evacuate what the Israeli military has turned into a free-fire zone, has raised fears throughout the region of a new Nakba or catastrophe — another installment of the war in the 1940s that caused the mass displacement of longtime Palestinian residents from what became the state of Israel. The fears gained credibility from the leak of an Israeli government planning document that calls for forcibly transferring the population of the Gaza Strip to the Sinai. Perhaps the only thing preventing Israel from trying to implement such a plan is that the Egyptian government has multiple reasons to refuse to participate in any such scheme.
That scheme was about Gaza, but West Bankers probably have the most to fear from any new mass displacements or ethnic cleansing. Gaza is the open-air prison, but the West Bank, with East Jerusalem, is the prize — the land that Israeli hardliners want for, and only for, their own people.
The other dynamic that has made the West Bank increasingly become a powder keg since October 7 is the unsurprising increase in anger and resentment among the Palestinians who live there. Fear of a new Nakba is part of it. The casualties from increased settler violence and IDF use of military force are part of it. And so are the miseries in everyday life that have come from roadblocks and other obstructions to movement that the IDF has increased this month.
Another big part of it is anger over the death and devastation that the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip has imposed on the Palestinian brethren who live there. This is not a matter of support for Hamas. It is a matter of feeling the pain of co-nationals and of general outrage over the infliction of mass suffering.
The chance of a new intifada, or popular uprising, in the West Bank, was already significant before this month and is now even higher. In the current atmosphere, a new intifada would likely be at least as violent as the last one. It would by itself represent a significant spread of the war in Gaza. And by making the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict that much larger, it would increase the chance of further spread, such as by drawing in Lebanese Hezbollah.
Paul R. Pillar is Non-resident Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies of Georgetown University and a non-resident fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. He is also an Associate Fellow of the Geneva Center for Security Policy.
A Palestinian man looks at an Israeli military vehicle during an Israeli raid in Tubas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank October 31, 2023. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta
DOHA, QATAR — In remarks Sunday at the 21st Doha Forum in Qatar, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov seemed to revel in what is becoming a groundswell of international frustration with the United States over its policies in Israel. Despite Russia’s own near-isolated status after its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Lavrov glibly characterized the U.S. as on the wrong side of history, the leader of the dying world order, and the purveyor of its own brand of “cancel culture.”
“I think everybody understands that this (Gaza war) did not happen in a vacuum that there were decades of unfulfilled promises that the Palestinians would get their own state,” and years of political and security hostilities that exploded on Oct. 7, he charged. “This is about the cancel culture, whatever you don’t like about events that led to the current situation you cancel. Everything that came before February 2022, including the bloody coup (in Ukraine) and the unconstitutional change of power … all this was canceled. The only thing that remains is that Russia invaded Ukraine.”
Lavrov, beamed in from Russia to the international audience in Doha, went fairly unchallenged, though his interviewer James Bays, diplomatic editor at Al Jazeera, attempted to corner him on accusations stemming from Russia’s own bloody record in Chechnya in the 1990s and and 2000s and its ongoing military campaign in Syria, which Lavrov noted was at the “behest” of the Syrian government.
On the issue of the failed ceasefire vote at the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent veto member, Lavrov said, “we strongly condemn the terrorist attack against Israel. At the same time we do not think it is acceptable to use this (terrorist) event for collective punishment of millions of Palestinian people.” Did he condemn the United States for vetoing the ceasefire measure? “It’s up to the regional countries and the other countries of the world to judge,” he declared.
When asked if there was a “stalemate” in the Russian war in Ukraine, and what the Russians may have gained from their invasion in 2022, he said simply, “it’s up to the Ukrainians to understand how deep a hole they are in and where the Americans have put them.”
On whether a ceasefire may be in the offing in that war Lavrov said, “a year and half ago (Zelensky) signed a decree prohibiting any negotiations with the Putin government. They had the chance in March and April 2022, very soon after the beginning of the special military operation, where in Istanbul the negotiators reached a deal with neutrality for Ukraine, no NATO, and security guarantees…it was canceled,” he added, because the Americans and Brits wanted to “exhaust (Ukrainians) more.”
Lavrov gleefully piggybacked on themes from an earlier forum panel on the Global South. He accused “the United States and its allies” of building “the model of globalization, which they thought would serve them well.” But now, Lavrov contends, the unaligned are using “the principles and instruments of globalization to beat the West on their own terms.” As for Russia, Lavrov deployed a little “cancel culture” of his own, cherry picking the high points of his country's history over the last 200 years to project a nation that he boasts will emerge unscathed by Western assaults today.
“In the beginning of the 19th century Napoleon (rose European armies) against Russia and we defeated him; in the 20th century Hitler did the same. We defeated him and became stronger after that as well,” he said. With the Ukraine war, the West will find “that Russia has already become much stronger than it was before this.”
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks in opening session of the Doha Forum in Qatar, December 10. (vlahos)
DOHA, QATAR — The U.S. veto of the UN Security Council vote for a ceasefire in the war in Gaza is being met with widespread anger and frustration by the international community and especially in the Arab world, as reflected in opening remarks at the 21st Doha Forum in Qatar on Sunday.
Addressing the forum, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the vote was “regrettable…that does not make it less necessary. I can promise that I will not give up.” He said since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas in Israel and the ensuing Israeli retaliation in Gaza, “the Council’s authority and credibility were seriously undermined” by a succession of failed votes to respond to ongoing civilian carnage on the Strip.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, foreign minister of Qatar, said the current crisis and the U.S. reaction to it, including its thwarting of the ceasefire call (it was the only vote of disapproval; the UK abstained) was exposing the “great gap between East and West ... and double standards in the international community.” He pointed to those drawing attention to war crimes in “other contexts” (no doubt referring to Russia in Ukraine ) “hesitating to call for the end of these crimes in the Gaza strip.”
He repeatedly called for the creation of new multipolar world order that "respects justice and equality between the people where no people are more powerful than the other."
The U.S. said it did not approve the ceasefire resolution Friday because of the lack of condemnation of Hamas in the language, and that it not include a declaration of Israel’s right to defend itself. U.S. ambassador Robert Wood said halting Israel’s military action would “only plant the seeds for the next war.”
The result is that people here at the forum say they are more convinced than ever that U.S. policy is reflexively and intimately intertwined with Israel's activities in Gaza. As Mohammad Shtayyeh, prime minister of Palestine, charged, Washington has given the “greenest of green lights” to what Israel is doing on the ground. This was exacerbated this weekend with news that the Biden Administration is bypassing Congressional review to send 13,000 tank rounds to Israel. This, despite efforts by Democrats in his own party to condition the transfer of offensive weapons to prevent their use against civilians.
Meanwhile, humanitarian advocates repeatedly called the situation on the ground “unprecedented.” In an interview with Al Jazeera reporter Stefanie Dekker on the dais, Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said his own organization is “on the brink of collapse.” They have lost 134 relief workers in Gaza since Israeli operations began. He described staff in silent stupefaction over the loss of homes, families. “There is no doubt a ceasefire is needed; we want to put an end to hell on earth right now in Gaza.”
Khaled Saffuri, executive director of the National Interest Foundation in Washington, told RS he was struck by the backlash against American brands in his own travels in Kuwait and Qatar over the last week, citing customer and restaurant boycotts of Coke, Pepsi, MacDonald’s, and Starbucks. “It’s horrible,” he said of the lopsided UN vote. “America is losing a lot in the Muslim world.”
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Journalists in the press room watch as Republican presidential candidate and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and fellow candidate and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy discuss an issue during the fourth Republican candidates' debate of the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign hosted by NewsNation at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, U.S., December 6, 2023. REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer
It's as if the Ukraine War has all but ended — at least for American politics.
If the Republican debates had occurred last year, they would have been consumed with talk over whether Vladimir Putin was readying to roll across Europe and how weak President Biden was for not giving Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky our best tanks, our most powerful fighter aircraft, the longest range missiles we had — maybe even access to nukes.
But Zelensky wasn’t anywhere near the debate stage in Alabama last night, his name not even invoked. Fitting, we guess, since the Senate failed to pass an aid package yesterday that would have sent another $60 billion to Ukraine. This, despite administration claims that the war effort is literally running out of money. Biden even took to the airwaves Wednesday to warn of a NATO war if the funding wasn’t approved.
Republicans have been souring on the aid for months now, which might account for Ukraine’s diminished importance in the conversation. It was outweighed last night by the conflict in Israel, which in itself only drew three questions: Do we send in special forces to get the eight remaining American hostages back from Hamas? What kind of punishment could be slapped on university presidents who allow “pro Hamas” protests on campus? And how do we “get” Iran for purportedly being behind it all?
Ukraine was wielded, albeit briefly, as a blunt instrument. At the very least it gave us the tiniest of glimpses into the competing world views of the hawks on the dais (Chris Christie and Nikki Haley) and their chief agitant, Vivek Ramaswamy.
Haley raised the issue (without being asked about it) by fitting it into her usual stream of Domino Theory conciousness:
“The problem is, you have to see that all of these are related. If you look at the fact Russia was losing that war with Ukraine, Putin had hit rock bottom, they had raised the draft age to 65. He was getting drones and missiles — drones from Iran, missiles from North Korea. And so what happened when he hit rock bottom, all of a sudden his other friend, Iran, Hamas goes and invades Israel and butchers those people on Putin's birthday. There is no one happier right now than Putin because all of the attention America had on Ukraine suddenly went to Israel. And that's what they were hoping is going to happen. We need to make sure that we have full clarity, that there is a reason again that Taiwanese want to help Ukrainians because they know if Ukraine wins China won't invade Taiwan. There's a reason the Ukrainians want to help Israelis because they know that if Iran wins, Russia wins. These are all connected. But what wins all of that is a strong America, not a weak America. And that's what Joe Biden has given us.”
Vivek Ramaswamy responds:
“I want to say one thing about that tie to Ukraine. Foreign policy experience is not the same as foreign policy wisdom. I was the first person to say we need a reasonable peace deal in Ukraine. Now a lot of the neocons are quietly coming along to that position with the exceptions of Nikki Haley and Joe Biden, who still support this, what I believe, is pointless war in Ukraine. …One thing that Joe Biden and Nikki Haley have in common is that neither of them could even state for you three provinces in eastern Ukraine that they want to send our troops to actually fight for. … So reject this myth that they've been selling you that somebody had a cup of coffee stint at the UN and then makes eight million bucks after has real foreign policy experience. It takes an outsider to see this through.”
To which Chris Christie retorted:
“Let me just say something here, you know, his (Ramaswamy’s) reasonable peace deal in Ukraine. He made it clear. Give them all the land they've already stolen. Promise Putin you'll never put Ukraine in Russia, and then trust Putin not to have a relationship with China.” (Christie then essentially calls Ramaswamy a liar for suggesting he never said that.)
"These people are lying. These are the same people who told you about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify that invasion didn't know the first thing about it if they send thousands of our sons and daughters to go die. The same people who told you the same in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is still in charge. Twenty years later, seven trillion of our national debt due to these toxic neocons. You can put lipstick on a Dick Cheney, it is still a fascist neocon today."
That was basically it. After $130 billion in U.S. taxpayer money since 2022, most of which we are being told has been spent in Ukraine. After hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians dead and maimed, Ukraine’s economy in such a state that the West has to prop it up, and NATO pledging more troops and weapons it doesn’t even seem to have, the issue was afforded a scant few minutes, and used only in the broadest of ways to pound each other. Gone was even the ghost of the old argument that the free world was at stake or that our obligation to Ukrainians was a moral imperative. It’s been reduced to a political cudgel, which is the first step to being memory holed in Washington. It happened to Iraq and Afghanistan in prior president debates 2012 and 2016.
The gist seems to be, maybe if we ignore it, it will just go away?