Israel poised to end Netanyahu era with new unity government 

Shortly before the end of his mandate on June 2nd, Yair Lapid informed Israeli President Rivlin that he had succeeded in forming a government. Along with its inclusion of parties from across the political spectrum, the government is set to include an Arab party, the United Arab List, for the first time in Israel’s history. Earlier in the day, Isaac Herzog – a strong and longstanding supporter of a two-state solution – was elected to become Israel’s next president, and will take office after Rivlin’s term expires on July 9th.

While the new government is set to feature a much larger number of supporters of a two-state solution, any parameter shifts are currently premature.  


May, in short:

  • Israel-Gaza crisis sparked by events in Jerusalem: 11 days of fighting and over 300 deaths, alongside violence in mixed Israeli cities and the West Bank
  • US ramps up Israel-Palestine engagement: Gaza conflict, along with actions in Congress and shifts in US public opinion, leads Biden administration to push for a ceasefire and pledge sustained involvement 
  • World reacts to Gaza conflict: Increased role for Egypt after brokering ceasefire, pledges of aid for Gaza reconstruction, and limited criticism of Israel by Arab states

These events increased the Two-State Index (TSI) by 1.2% (up 0.07 points from 5.61 in the previous month).

To learn about the Geneva Initiative's TSI, visit our website.

Tensions in Jerusalem lead to “mini-war” in Gaza and street violence in Israel

May was witness to 11 days of fighting between Israel and both Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, the worst eruption of violence since 2014. Events in Jerusalem – including Israeli police raids at Al Aqsa mosque and the pending evictions of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah – led to Hamas issuing an ultimatum and subsequently firing rockets at Jerusalem (see full timeline here). After a ceasefire was reached on May 21st, the Palestinian Health Ministry reported 256 people killed in Gaza, including 67 children, and 1,910 wounded; 13 people were killed in Israel, including two children, and 114 injured. Some 4,360 rockets and mortar shells were fired from Gaza, roughly 3,400 of which crossed into Israeli territory. 

The “mini-war” in Gaza also sparked inter-communal violence in mixed Arab-Jewish cities across Israel, the worst in at least two decades. Meanwhile, in the West Bank, 26 Palestinians were killed (many while attempting to attack Israelis) during the fighting in Gaza. “Hamas saw a chance to both capitalize on Fatah’s disarray and present itself as the defender of Palestinians,” wrote Ghaith al-Omari of The Washington Institute. “Indeed, domestic politics was arguably the main motivator for Hamas to fire rockets at Jerusalem on May 10, knowing full well that this would elicit a devastating Israeli response. The gambit proved successful.” 

In the aftermath of the fighting, both Israel and Hamas claimed victory. Palestinian demonstrators packed the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, with many showing strong support for Hamas. Days later, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, threatened renewed violence if Israel “violates” Al Aqsa. “There is no winner in this,” according to Dr. Shibley Telhami of the Brookings Institution. “But politically, [Hamas] have gained. They’re more relevant – they seem to have reacted to the crisis in Jerusalem that the Palestinians wanted someone to do something about.”

After touting Israel’s military success, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that it was “time for diplomatic action” to end the perpetual cycle of Israel-Gaza violence and he emphasized the need to strengthen the PA. While Israeli security officials believe that Hamas has been successful deterred, they retained the ability to launch rockets in large numbers. The violence was a reminder that Israel has no strategy for Gaza beyond “mowing the lawn” and maintaining Hamas’ control of the territory, with IDF General Aharon Haliva claiming that five years of subsequent quiet between Israel and Gaza would be considered a successful outcome. 

The events before and during the crisis also made clear that, after years of a seemingly widening separation between the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza, they have now reverted to a single arena – and Hamas has only benefitted from Israel’s strategy of reinforcing such separation. Along with its rise in popularity among Palestinians, Hamas has set a new precedent for responding to events on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, all while excluding the PA and setting the political agenda. Furthermore, the range, quantity, and capability of their rocket arsenal showed notable improvement.

A poll by Israel’s Channel 12 found that about half of Israelis opposed the ceasefire and half believed that there was no winner in the conflict. “The overall sense of a fairly large portion of the public is unease and dissatisfaction that this [fighting] didn’t solve anything, and that it made things worse on the streets of Israel, it reawakened Hamas in the West Bank, and it didn’t solve a thing in Jerusalem,” said former Israeli security official Yossi Alpher. For their part, Palestinians in Gaza face a long road to reconstruction, and must deal with badly damaged infrastructure. With both Israel and Hamas pledging to respond aggressively to the other’s potential actions, another round of conflict could be sparked before long. 

In May, the parameters related to IDF actions and Palestinian attacks in Gaza increased from 5 to 8 and from 6 to 8, respectively, while the Prospects for war parameter rose from 5 to 6. Regarding the West Bank, the parameters related to IDF actions and Palestinian attacks both increased from 6 to 7.  The parameter related to humanitarian conditions in Gaza decreased from 3 to 2, the Hamas leadership parameter fell from 5 to 3, and the Palestinian public opinion parameter decreased from 5 to 4, due to the rise in Hamas’ popularity. Lastly, the Israeli public opinion parameter rose from 5 to 6, based on the increased understanding that there is no military solution to the conflict.


Biden administration increases engagement on Israel-Palestine amid shifting public opinion

During the course of the conflict in Gaza, the Biden administration played an evolving and increasingly active role in helping to bring about a ceasefire. The administration was slow to become heavily involved publicly, working largely behind the scenes until the arrival of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hady Amr in Israel on May 14th. The next day, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez – known as a hawk on policies related to Israel – issued a statement that included rare criticism of Israel, followed by a letter from 28 other senators urging an immediate cease-fire, along with a letter from 12 House members that included staunch supporters of Israel. This came after strong criticism of Israel from progressive Democrats on the House floor. 

These political dynamics reportedly led the administration to change the traditional wording of their public messages. In his Eid al-Fitr greeting on May 16th, President Biden said that the US “believes Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live in safety and security and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy.” While Biden issued statements of strong support for Israel during and after the fighting, following the ceasefire he declared that a two-state solution is “the only answer” to the conflict. 

“This is not an administration staffed with novices or strangers to this conflict, they know it’s a conflict that refuses to be ignored,” said Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen of the United States Institute of Peace. “They’ve talked about ‘fireproofing’ and dealing with these festering dynamics that will only result in this kind of conflagration again if they’re not handled [and that] will require the US to be balancing engagement with both sides.”

This was indeed the message sent by Secretary of State Tony Blinken during his follow-up visit to the region. After arriving in Israel on May 25th, Blinken said the US plans to focus on addressing “the underlying causes” of the conflict, and he said that the administration’s goal is to “give the Palestinian people, including those in Gaza, a renewed sense of confidence, of optimism, of real opportunity. If we are able to do that together, then Hamas’s foothold in Gaza will slip.” It was apparent that the US wants the PA to have a role in providing aid to Gaza, ideally gaining influence and goodwill there – which runs counter to Israel’s strategy of separation.

After meeting with President Abbas, Blinken announced nearly $40 million in additional aid to the Palestinians, including aid for Gaza reconstruction, with the Biden administration having now pledged some $360 million to the Palestinians. He also declared that the administration would reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem, but gave no timetable for doing so. Throughout his trip, Blinken continued to emphasize US support for a two-state solution as the only way to end the conflict.

The Biden administration also appears to have internalized the shifting attitudes within the Democratic Party on Israel-Palestine. While a Hill-Harris poll conducted on May 14-15 found that a majority of voters approve of President Biden's handling of the Gaza conflict (56% to 44%), including 79% of Democratic voters, 53% of Democrats said in a May 21-23 survey said they would support a resolution to block $735 million in new weapons sales to Israel. Furthermore, a Harvard CAPS-Harris poll released on May 24th showed that roughly 50% of Democrats blamed Israel for the fighting.

“There has been a profound transformation within the Democratic party,” said Dr. Telhami. “It is partly demographic – because of the changing base of the party – but also because of the tenure of Netanyahu … and because of the rise in the focus on social justice issues that put a different perspective on the issue of Palestine [and prioritized it] within the Democratic constituency.”

The Biden administration’s increased rhetorical support for a two-state solution and commitment to further engagement, along with public opinion in the US moving toward a more balanced approach, shifted the United States parameter from 8 to 9 in May.


Gaza conflict reignites world attention and results in enhanced role for Egypt

Both before and during the Israel-Gaza crisis, numerous international actors and heads of state called for calm and restraint in Jerusalem, pushed for a ceasefire in Gaza, and gave support to a two-state solution (see timeline here).  While the UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia condemned Israel over the clashes with Palestinians at Al Aqsa, the reactions of the Arab states that recently normalized relations with Israel were relatively mild, and no Israeli ambassadors were recalled. 

After the ceasefire, both Egypt and Qatar pledged $500 million to Gaza reconstruction, and donations of aid were also announced by the UN, EU, Germany, and others. President Sisi was perhaps the biggest winner in the aftermath of the Gaza crisis, with Egypt the primary driver in brokering a ceasefire. Sisi, who Biden had not contacted prior to the fighting, demonstrated Egypt’s regional role of ensuring stability between Israel and Hamas, and Biden publicly expressed his "sincere gratitude" for Egypt’s “critical role in this diplomacy." 

Secretary Blinken reinforced this support for Egypt’s role – along with that of Jordan – during his trip to the region. After meeting with Sisi and King Abdullah of Jordan, Blinken announced that the reconstruction process in Gaza would be led by the UN, along with the PA, Egypt and Israel. Since then, Egypt has taken the lead in brokering a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, with Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel holding meetings, including photo-ops, with both Hamas leaders and PM Netanyahu. A renewed international interest in the conflict has also been apparent, with visits to Israel from the foreign ministers of the UK, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

These developments increased the Arab world parameter from 7 to 8 this month.

The Two-State Index (TSI) is brought to you by the Geneva Initiative, a Palestinian-Israeli organization working to promote a negotiated peace agreement in the spirit of the two-state vision. The TSI is produced by an Israeli-Palestinian team, and reflects a unique bilateral perspective.
Think we missed something this month? Send us tips and comments here.

Powered by Publicators