Will Israel have a third intifada?

The eternal conflict in the Middle East : Is Israel threatening a third intifada?

It is beautiful in that region whose status moves the world. From the lookout point in Mitzpe Jericho, an Israeli settlement in the Jordan Valley, the view falls on the gently rolling brown hills of the Judean Desert; The Dead Sea glistens on the horizon. Crickets chirp, otherwise it's quiet.

“I love it here,” says Adam Kenigsberg, a stocky American with a dark beard. He immigrated to Israel eleven years ago, and in 2012 he and his wife moved to Mitzpe Jericho. “We lead a village life,” he enthuses, “the children play outside. And in a quarter of an hour you can be in Jerusalem. "

The headlines of the last few weeks, which sound as if the fate of Mitzpe Jericho could inflame the region, seem very far away in its idyll. The settlement of around 2500 inhabitants is located in the West Bank, which the Israelis control militarily and which the Palestinians claim for their state.

For decades, there was broad global consensus that the ultimate border between the Israeli and a future Palestinian state would be determined through negotiations.

But Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has canceled this consensus: On July 1, he may initiate the annexation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, according to the coalition agreement.

And the Jordan Valley could be the first in line: Netanyahu had already promised in autumn to declare the region a national territory. He is not only driven by domestic political calculations: as early as 1993 he wrote in his book “A Place Among the Nations” that Israel should never give up the Jordan Valley for geostrategic reasons.

What will happen to the two-state solution?

Many fear that a unilateral annexation could finally bury the hope of a two-state solution. The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has already put all cooperation with the Israeli side on hold in protest and is threatening to dissolve the Authority.

Most EU governments are alarmed, as are Arab leaders and large sections of the US Democrats. The media speak of a “taboo break”, a turning point.

After Mitzpe Jericho, however, the excitement did not advance. "To be honest, I didn't think much about the annexation," says Adam Kenigsberg. "I'm for it, but I don't think it would change our lives significantly."

A short walk from the lookout point, the 62-year-old Israeli Moshe Eyal lives in a tidy, well-air-conditioned house. A large photo hangs in the entrance: On it is Eyal, slim, white-haired, with a fine smile, next to his wife, both surrounded by their six children and 16 grandchildren.

"My father fought in all the Israeli wars, up to the Yom Kippur War," says Eyal as he serves up cinnamon cookies that his wife baked. “I grew up with a Zionist worldview.” As a teenager he joined “Gush Emunim”, a national religious movement that advocated the settlement of the West Bank, which Israel had conquered from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. In 1982 he moved to Mitzpe Jericho with his wife.

Moshe Eyal wears a crocheted kippah, he is a believer, like all the residents of the village. He sees divine providence in the return of the Jews to their ancestral lands. He rejects the expression "annexation": It sounds as if Israel were illegally annexing territories. Instead, he speaks of “sovereignty” that the government is expanding - a move that he believes is overdue. "I think it's a terrible shame that Israel did not declare the territories to be state territory immediately after the Six-Day War."

Many foreign observers see the plans not as divine will, but as a highly secular violation of international law. Among them is the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who recently paid a visit to Jerusalem to warn against the move.

"The Deal of the Century"

The effect is likely to be limited. Netanyahu appears determined to take advantage of Washington's support. In his annexation project, he cites the "Deal of the Century" presented by US President Donald Trump at the beginning of the year. It stipulates that Israel can keep its settlements in the West Bank and to compensate the Palestinians has given a few loosely connected areas on the Israeli-Egyptian border.

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The Palestinian leadership had already rejected this outraged and ruled out any talks with the US and Israel - which they inadvertently play into the hands of Netanyahu, who argues that he would like to negotiate, but unfortunately he lacks a partner.

Israel's right is opposed to a Palestinian state

Substantial parts of the Israeli right reject the establishment of a Palestinian state. But what status should the nearly three million Palestinians in the West Bank receive if Israel wants to preserve its Jewish majority and its democratic character at the same time?

For Israel this is one of the most sensitive questions, but Moshe Eyal has an easy answer: Israel should only naturalize those Palestinians who swore allegiance to the Jewish state - in their own interest: “The best place for Arabs in the Middle East is the State of Israel ", he says. “We build, we plant, we develop the land, we create jobs. Our presence and control is good for everyone, Jews and Arabs. "

He avoids the word “Palestinian”. In his eyes there is no Palestinian people, just a collection of Arab tribes and clans.

A few kilometers northeast, in a smoky office on the outskirts of Jericho, the world looks very different. "The plan of the American and Israeli governments is to end the existence of the Palestinian people in this country," says Mowafaq Hashem, a 50-year-old Palestinian.

Well-known complaints

Hashem runs an organization that promotes agricultural products. "Israel is a terrorist state that does not care about international law," he grumbles and lists well-known complaints: Israel is ousting the Palestinians from their fields, depriving them of their resources and subjugating them. In his narrative, the planned annexation does not sound like a turning point, but rather like the latest item in a long list of Israeli crimes.

A “service”, a yellow shared taxi, drives north from Jericho to the village of Al-Auja. Here Mohanad Al-Saaideh runs the “Auja Eco Center”, which offers ecological workshops, hikes and guest rooms.

“Tell the driver that you want to see Mohanad, they all know me,” he advises on the phone, and that's exactly how it is: a sign from the US aid organization USAID hangs in front of the building, and 38-year-old Mohanad Al-Saaideh is inside . His center, founded ten years ago with international funding, is now self-sufficient.

Resignation and fatigue are common

Mohanad can only laugh about the Israeli plan and all the excitement about it: "What Netanyahu and Trump are planning to do with the Jordan Valley has been happening since 1967. The Israelis control roads, borders, resources, they control our lives." He was even grateful to Trump. "Thanks to him, the media shed light on this story."

Critics of the annexation plan warn that its implementation could provoke outbreaks of violence, possibly even a third intifada. But far more often than anger, one encounters resignation and fatigue in the Palestinian territories.

"I think the only people who fear legal annexation are those who still believe in the illusion of a two-state solution," says Salem Barahmeh, director of the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy in Ramallah. "We Palestinians lost that hope a long time ago."

Hardly anyone knows what will happen on July 1st. The only thing that is certain is that Netanyahu will come to an agreement with Washington - there have recently been contradicting signals. There were rumors that Netanyahu could initially be content with a "symbolic" annexation of some settlements near Jerusalem.

The only ones who are calmly looking forward to July 1st seem to be the local people, be it out of self-assurance or resignation. "With the annexation, the government recognizes what has long been a reality," says Adam Kenigsberg in Mitzpe Jericho.

"Annexation has been going on for a long time," says Mohanad Al-Saaideh. “People are tired. She no longer cares about politics. "

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