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analysisIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

In Judea and Samaria, the post-Abbas era has already begun

The inability of the Fatah faction to unite and produce a clear successor to P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas may lead to surprising scenarios.

Israeli soldiers in Jenin as part of a counter-terrorism operation, July 3, 2023. Credit: Israel Defense Forces.
Israeli soldiers in Jenin as part of a counter-terrorism operation, July 3, 2023. Credit: Israel Defense Forces.
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin is an Israel-based military affairs correspondent and analyst. He is the in-house analyst at the Miryam Institute; a research associate at the Alma Research and Education Center; and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He is a frequent guest commentator on international television news networks, including Sky News and i24 News. Lappin is the author of Virtual Caliphate: Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet. Follow him at: www.patreon.com/yaakovlappin.

On Tuesday evening, the Israel Defense Forces, Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) and Border Police conducted a counter-terror raid in the Jenin refugee camp, the epicenter of terrorism in Judea and Samaria.

The Israeli forces were engaged by Palestinian gunmen and returned fire, also deploying a Spike Firefly loitering munition.

Palestinian terrorists detonated an IED (improvised explosive device) under an IDF vehicle, and targeted the rescue vehicles sent in to assist it.

Israeli forces were able to extricate the vehicle without taking casualties; four Palestinian terrorists were killed in the raid, according to media reports.

The incident was the latest reminder of the Palestinian Authority’s fragile standing in the area—the Israeli operation came on the heels of an attempt by the P.A. to regain a degree of control in Jenin following a large-scale IDF operation there by Israel in July.

While P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas is still technically in charge of the P.A., of Fatah, and of the PLO in Judea and Samaria, in practice, several Palestinian actors are behaving in a manner that suggests the post-Abbas era has already begun.

Hamas, for its part, which rules the Gaza Strip and is seeking to boost its foothold in Judea and Samaria, has increased its ability to orchestrate terrorist activities there. Hamas does this using its “West Bank headquarters,” which are centers for coordinating terrorism based in Gaza and in Lebanon.

Israel and the P.A. have a common interest in preventing a Hamas presence in Judea and Samaria—a presence fueled by Iranian cash and weapons—as such a development threatens both Israeli security and the P.A.’s standing.

However, it is Israel that will have to neutralize the emerging threat, a task that hinges on Israel’s continued full freedom of movement and intelligence superiority in the region.

The P.A.’s recent attempt to step up its own raids against gunmen in Jenin and Nablus suggest that it has realized that if it fails to do this, Israel will do it instead, further weakening its standing among Palestinians.

These events provide hints as to what may occur after Abbas departs the scene. The inability of the Fatah faction to unite and produce a clear successor to Abbas, someone that could maintain the existing Palestinian coalition leadership structure, may lead to surprising scenarios.

One of those scenarios might be that elements within Fatah come to view Hamas as a potential partner to leverage against Fatah rivals. If that were to happen, Hamas would gain access to and a substantial role in the P.A.’s decision-making process.   

Already at this stage, sub-factions within the P.A. are behaving like the post-Abbas era has arrived, with some acting independently to build support among armed militia-like groups on the ground, securing finances and making their own political connections within Judea and Samaria and outside of it.

Israel’s response has been to create a capability to disrupt terrorism irrespective of the P.A.’s political and internal security dynamics, and irrespective of which scenario ends up playing out.

That means ensuring operational readiness for any eventuality, and preparing for all scenarios on the security front.

 Those preparations also have to take into account Iran’s growing role in Judea and Samaria, which finds expression through terrorist financing and the smuggling of weapons and drugs via the Jordanian border, and dealing with a younger Palestinian generation that is both frustrated by the lack of any change in its situation and exposed to systematic, radical incitement on social media and mainstream media.

While the current security situation has not yet reached the intensity of the first or second intifadas, Israel is taking preemptive action to prevent a third intifada, identifying and disrupting threats as they materialize.

As far as the Israeli defense establishment is concerned,  the primary objective remains consistent: preserving stability and countering terror. That also includes the granting of some 150,000 work permits to Palestinians, allowing them to enter Israel and Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria. It also means preferring P.A. rule to the other two alternatives facing Area A of Judea and Samaria: Hamas or chaos.

From Iran’s vantage point, meanwhile, the boundary between Judea and Samaria and Israel, marked by fences and crossings, represents a potentially exploitable vulnerability. Furthermore, the blurred lines between criminal and terror activities, especially in the context of arms and drugs smuggling, is seen by Iran as an opportunity.

Proactive security measures like Tuesday’s raid in Jenin, while preparing for any eventuality that might follow Abbas’s departure, will form main pillars of Israeli defense policy in the near future. 

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