What happened: Palestinian factions have called for mass demonstrations in the West Bank today, in a “Day of Rage” to protest the recent announcement by the Trump Administration that Israeli settlements do not contravene international law.
- The Fatah Central Committee and Palestine Liberation Organisation’s Executive Committee has planned protests in Palestinian city centres, although other reports indicated that some clashes are expected at “friction points” with Israel, including West Bank checkpoints and highways. Schools in the Palestinian Authority (PA) will be closed by late morning to increase turnout.
- The Israel Defence Force (IDF) has been put on heightened alert, with forces bolstered in these friction points and around settlements. Soldiers have been given directives to act with restraint, in particular with the use of live fire.
- Mahmoud al-Aloul, deputy head of the Fatah movement, described the Trump Administration and Israel as a “group of gangs perpetrating several crimes against our people,” and that the plan was to change “the status quo in order to protect our national cause.”
Context: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on 18 November a reversal in long-standing American policy, declaring that: ‘We will no longer recognise Israeli settlements as per se inconsistent with international law’ drawing Palestinian anger. No other state has supported this shift in US policy.
- Overnight, a Fatah leader serving a sentence in Israeli prison for terrorist offences died after a long battle with cancer – a development also liable to increase tensions.
- It is still unclear if Hamas in the Gaza Strip will join in the demonstrations. According to Haaretz, the IDF sees a window of opportunity to move forward with a longer-term ceasefire arrangement in Gaza – especially after the assassination of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) commander Baha Abu al-Atta and the two day military campaign against PIJ earlier this month. But Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, as it has been in the past, is resisting a further easing of restrictions regarding entry into Israel from Gaza. A rocket was fired late yesterday from Gaza into southern Israel, landing in an open field.
Looking ahead: The Israeli assessment is that today’s “Day of Rage,” like many that have come before in the West Bank, will not lead to widespread violence. The key metric will be overall turnout across several friction points and the level of (potential) violence deployed by Palestinian demonstrators. But IDF commanders are concerned that casualties on the Palestinian side will lead to increased tensions and undermine the relative stability of the West Bank, underpinned by the close security coordination between the IDF and PA Security Forces.