Dear Friends,

As the war in Ukraine continues, the international community’s attention is rightly focused on stabilizing the situation in Europe and restoring peace and justice. However, the need to prevent additional hostilities in other parts of the world should remain a high priority. Click on the headlines below for our analysis of how developments this month impacted the feasibility of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

February at a Glance:

These events decreased the Two-State Index by -5.6% in February (down 0.32 points from 5.65 to 5.33).

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Sheikh Jarrah Eviction Ruling May Defuse Violence Following Weeks of Rising Tensions
Protests against Palestinian evictions in Sheikh Jarrah descended into violence earlier this month after far-right Israeli MK Itamar Ben Gvir set up a makeshift office in the flashpoint East Jerusalem neighborhood. Ben Gvir’s repeated provocations drew widespread condemnation, including from PM Naftali Bennett and top Israeli security officials who warned that such “dangerous and irresponsible” actions threatened stability across the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Violent protests erupted on an almost nightly basis throughout the month, intensifying during Muslim holiday celebrations. Confrontations between Israeli police and Palestinians erupted at Damascus Gate on Feb 28 during the Muslim celebration of Isra and Mi'raj. Much of the unrest witnessed during the month was concentrated in 
Sheikh Jarrah, which has become a powder keg of tensions and a symbolic front in the battle over Jerusalem’s political future. After a decision to postpone the imminent eviction of the Salem family from their home in the neighborhood, Israel's Supreme Court ruled that Palestinian families slated for eviction may remain in their homes until a final decision on the property rights has been reached. Such a landmark ruling will likely lead to a deescalation of tensions that threatened broader escalation ahead of a highly sensitive religious period.

The eviction of several Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah was a key factor in the May 2021 war, but both Israel and Hamas have signaled to Egyptian interlocutors that they are not interested in a military confrontation. Despite warning that continued violence in Sheikh Jarrah would be liable to spark a new round of fighting, Hamas has thus far refrained from taking any actions that would spark a war while economic and humanitarian measures are advanced to Gaza’s benefit.

Also stirring tensions in East Jerusalem, Israel this month advanced plans for 400 new housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo and approved a one-billion-shekel budget for infrastructure projects connecting East Jerusalem settlements to the city’s West. A separate initiative to encompass several Christian holy sites on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives in a national park was temporarily shelved following backlash from major churches and activists, who decried the plan as a further attempt to entrench Israeli sovereignty and marginalize non-Jewish presence in the area.

This month’s developments in East Jerusalem prompted a deluge of international condemnations. The US, for its part, has pressed Israel to de-escalate tensions in East Jerusalem expressing concern that the situation could deteriorate further as Ramadan approaches. Signaling an effort to contain potential unrest during the Muslim holy month, Israel announced that it will not place crowd-control barriers opposite Damascus Gate after violent clashes erupted over the barriers during the holiday last year.

This month, the TSI introduces new parameters on Israeli Public Discourse, Palestinian Public Discourse and International Public Opinion, assigning them each a value of 6, as scenes of violence in East Jerusalem coupled by provocations by high-profile officials generate more significant public discussions of the two-state solution. In light of the Israeli Supreme Court's decision on Sheikh Jarrah, the Jerusalem Civil Life parameter increased this month from 4 to 5.

West Bank on the Brink Amid Ongoing Clashes With Israeli Settlers, Waning Confidence in PA Leadership
Tensions also boiled across the West Bank this month, as clashes erupted between Palestinians and Israeli forces at flashpoints throughout the territory in response to developments in Sheikh Jarrah, Israeli operations in Nablus and Jenin, ongoing settler attacks, and waning confidence in the Palestinian Authority’s leadership. “These factors are increasing the territorial fragmentation of the West Bank, undermining the Palestinian Authority and further eroding the prospects for peace,” Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland said in a briefing on developments to the UN Security Council.
Public Security Minister and GI Steering Committee Member Omer Bar-Lev – who has routinely denounced acts of settler violence as “terrorism” – this month sparked debate after penning a letter to Defense Minister Gantz criticizing IDF chief Aviv Kohavi for saying soldiers are not required to intervene in settler attacks against Palestinians. Bar Lev criticized vague policy outlining the responsibilities and jurisdictions of the IDF and Police in such instances, leading the IDF to clarify that soldiers have the duty to intervene to stop violent incidents, while arrests should be made by police.

Increased friction with Israeli settlers and security forces converged, meanwhile, with protests in Hebron and Bethlehem against rising prices and inflation which analysts say signaled a growing resentment of moderate Palestinian political leadership on both local issues and political issues. Taken together, internal instability in the PA and increased isolationism and fragmentation all contribute to an intense pressure that threatens to energize support for Hamas and other Islamist militant groups and topple stability in the West Bank.

The TSI this month introduces a new reversed-scale parameter for Settler Violence, assigning it a value of 7. This indicates that high rates of attacks perpetrated by Israeli settlers, and nonintervention by Israeli authorities, enhances the urgency for achieving a viable two-state solution to the conflict.
Palestinian Optimism Dampened After Gantz says Palestinians will have 'an entity,' not a state

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said this month that Palestinians would eventually have an “entity”, not a state, in a distinction that dashed Palestinian optimism over Gantz’s role in promoting a diplomatic horizon between the sides. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Gantz said that Israelis and Palestinians would eventually find themselves in “a two-entity solution” in which Israel “respect[s] Palestinian sovereignty and governance”. Pressed on his choice of words, Gantz said that the conventional concept of the two-state solution gives the “illusion” of a return to pre-1967 borders.

Gantz’s remarks harken back to the days of PM Yitzhak Rabin, who spoke frequently of a “Palestinian entity which will be less than a state”. Gantz has said previously that he aspires to be “the next Rabin”, has been a vocal proponent of engagement with the Palestinians, defending his two high-profile public meetings with President Mahmoud Abbas as in keeping with Israel’s interests.
“Gantz’s statements poured cold water on the Palestinians leadership in Ramallah, who were counting on him to make some difference on the Israeli political scene,” analyst Mohammed Daraghmeh says. Meanwhile, PA Civil Affairs Minister Hussein Al Sheikh – who has met with both Gantz and Lapid – declared that there is “no partner for peace in Israel” and described engagement with Israeli officials as part of a framework of “negotiating with the enemy.”

At the same time, the Palestinian Central Council recommended suspending recognition of Israel until it recognizes the State of Palestine. The Council’s recommendation is largely symbolic and has no official impact but nonetheless carries significant political meaning, Daraghmeh says. “It demonstrates that the desperation for a solution affirming Palestinian statehood has reached far in the minds of every single Palestinian, and that opens the way for different approaches and different dynamics.”
Indeed, stagnation in the peace process has led to more high-profile consideration of adjustments to the two-state solution. This month, former Israeli Justice Minister & Geneva Initiative Co-Founder Yossi Beilin and Dr. Hiba Husseini proposed a confederation between the two states based on the 2003 Geneva Initiative

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland, meanwhile, told the UNSC unequivocally that “there is no substitute for a legitimate political process” and that “firm action” was needed to “reset the trajectory” towards meaningful peace negotiations amid increasingly unstable circumstances.

The TSI introduces a new parameter on Official Israeli-Palestinian Engagement this month, assigning it a value of 5 out of 10. Though recent months have seen a significant upgrade in official bilateral relations between the sides, the pessimistic outlook of Palestinian leaders and the downgrading of Palestinian aspirations for statehood in the rhetoric of Israeli officials detracts from this progress.

Despite World’s Attention Turning to Ukraine, Strong International Statements Delivered on Israeli-Palestinian Conflict 

Though Israeli-Palestinian issues were largely relegated to the sidelines of international discourse as attention turns to Russia and Ukraine, earlier in the month world officials led strong engagement in the region and continued to espouse support for the two-state solution. The FMs of France, Germany, Egypt and Jordan held a quadripartite meeting at the Munich Security Conference and emphasized their “commitment to support all efforts to achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace that fulfills the legitimate rights of all parties on the basis of the two-state solution”.

Ahead of an expected visit to the region by President Joe Biden “later this year”, Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with Vice President Kamala Harris on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference and discussed the “importance of confidence-building measures with the Palestinians”, among other issues. Meanwhile, number of high-ranking Congressional Representatives met Israeli and Palestinian leaders this month, including US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who affirmed US support for the two-state solution.
A separate delegation led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy met with PM Bennett in Israel before travelling to Ramallah to meet Palestinian PM Shtayyeh, who warned the Congressional representatives of a “serious political vacuum” that could lead to “an explosion” in the region.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International’s labelling of Israel as an “apartheid state” was met with mixed international response, with Western nations, including the US, UK, Germany, France and Australia, largely rejecting the NGO’s claim that Israel enforces apartheid against Palestinians. US Ambassador Tom Nides dismissed the report as “absurd”, while the US State Department said it “reject[s] the view that Israel's actions constitute apartheid” and cautioned against a “double standard” towards Israel.
Israeli officials are concerned that the “apartheid state” narrative will ultimately be accepted by the UN, and Israel this month announced that it will not cooperate with a probe led by a special commission of the UN Human Rights Council into the May 2021 war with Hamas.

The TSI’s International Actors - Europe and International Actors - US parameters drop from 8 to 7 this month, reflecting prioritization of other pressing geopolitical matters including the Russia-Ukraine conflict in international rhetoric. The TSI introduces a new parameter on International Decisions & Norms this month, asigning it a value of 6.
Fragile Calm on Gaza Border Holds as Israel Implements Economic Confidence-Building Measures

A fragile calm along the Gaza border held this month despite flaring tensions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank as Israel implemented a number of economic and humanitarian measures announced over recent months.

According to a report by GISHA, there has been an 11% increase in the number of departures from Gaza through the Erez crossing due to an increase in merchant permits issued by Israel. In addition, 9,300 of a promised 10,000 Israeli trade permits have been issued to date, while Israel has approved changes to the residency status of some 3,400 Palestinians from Gaza now living in the West Bank. 
Israel this month also announced the inauguration of a new economic center to streamline procedures for the import and export of goods to Gaza, while Qatar said that it was leading efforts with relevant parties to secure an agreement on a new mechanism for issuing a distributing new Palestinian work permits for Gazans.

Meanwhile, Australia became the latest Western nation to blacklist the entire Hamas movement as a terrorist organization joining the UK, US, and EUIsrael welcomed the move, while Hamas condemned the decision as “a reflection of blatant bias” in favor of Israel.

The maintenance of a fragile calm on the Gaza border despite inflammatory developments this month signals that Hamas is largely disinterested in a military confrontation with Israel while economic and humanitarian measures are advanced on the ground. The TSI’s Prospect For War parameter therefore drops from 5 to 4 this month, while the Gaza Humanitarian & Economic Conditions parameter remains unchanged at 4.
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.
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