As the onslought between Israel and Palestine continues, Israel is facing rising domestic political division, growing violence in the West Bank and delicate negotiations among Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US. The slaughter of Israelis at a festival by Palestine’s Hamas seems deliberately timely.
Hamas claims it was taking revenge for a series of recent actions by Israel at a Jerusalem’s mosque.. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government has been conducting an escalating crackdown against what it says are rising Palestinian terror attacks for more than a year. (In truth, the Israelis have been terrorising Palestinians for decades).
It would seem the timing of the Hamas attack was primarily aimed at disrupting negotiations between Israel and Saudi Arabia as Riyadh appeared on the verge of a historic step to normalise relations with Israel.
In recent weeks, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Biden have all expressed support for an agreement that would result in Saudi Arabia recognising Israel diplomatically.
Something Iran most definitely does not want, hence its military support of Hamas.
If Saudi Arabia agreed to recognise Israel it would likely lead other Arab states to do so. A series of such agreement would end decades of hostility between Israel and its neighbours dating back to 1948, when the State of Israel was founded on land once occupied by Palestinians.
All sides have complex conditions for such a ground-breaking agreement. Breaking with past Saudi rulers, bin Salman has signalled that he is willing to recognise Israel, given the vast economic benefits it would provide to Saudi Arabia. Before the Hamas attack, there were reports that Saudi Arabia had told the White House it would agree to increase its oil production to help cement a deal, something the Biden White House has sought for two years.
However, the Saudis want the US to help them develop a civilian nuclear programme, something opposed by hard-right members of Netanyahu’s coalition and by members of the US Senate, which would have to approve any such deal.
Separately, President Biden told Mr Netanyahu when they met in New York last month that any agreement would have to include land for the Palestinians so that they could establish a viable state, something Netanyahu’s settlement extensions in the West Bank would prevent.
The West Bank, meanwhile, remains the scene of rising attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians. Israeli settlers have violently attacked Palestinians at least some 700 times this year alone — the highest number on record, according to the UN.
Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir praised the expansion of the settlements and has called for more. Netanyahu’s far-right government responded with plans to build 5,000 new Israeli settlements. Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land are illegal according to international law.
As the talks with the Saudis, Israelis and Americans progressed, Palestinian fierce disappointment arose. There is a palpable frustration among the Palestinians at seeing the Saudis and Israelis moving closer.
Netanyahu has also stoked domestic division among Israelis as he has pushed a judicial reform that would weaken Israel’s Supreme Court, a move that sparked mass protest across the country.
The first portion of reform enacted a law that protected a prime minister from being removed from power. The reform came after the Israeli leader forced multiple elections in recent years as Netanyahustruggled to remain in power. Critics denounced the court reforms by noting that it would weaken the democratic checks of power within Israel, some even noting that it was tailor-made to keep Netanyahu in leadership after allegations of corruption.
A second part of the reforms passed in July would prevent the court from declaring government decisions unreasonable. A poll then from Israel’s Channel 13 that month found 56% of Israelis feared the reforms could lead to civil war.
The last thing Israel needs right now.