Dear Friends,

We’re just two months out from yet another Israeli election, the results of which will ostensibly forecast whether Israel embarks on a path towards any process with the Palestinians or retreats towards a policy of deepening the occupation. Although the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more present in public discourse than in previous election campaigns, it is still far from being the main issue by which the Israeli electorate will determine their votes. And yet, an ongoing deterioration on the ground, continued violence, and a weakening of Palestinian control in Areas A and B may still impact local and international discourse on the issue.

The Two State Index rises +0.3% in August to 5.65. Click on the headlines below for in-depth analysis on how developments this month impacted the feasibility of the two-state solution.

August at a Glance:

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Operation Breaking Dawn: Hamas Tests the Waters of Moderation in Limited Israel-Gaza Conflict 

This month’s three-day Operation Breaking Dawn highlighted a shift in some of the central dynamics of previous escalations between Israel and Gaza, as Hamas tests the waters of moderation. In staying out of the flighting, Hamas benefitted from the weakening of its unruly rivals, PIJ, while also earning points with Israel, the US, Egypt, and the international community. Shortly after the conflict, Israel approved 1,500 additional work permits for Gazans, bringing the total number to an unprecedented 15,500. Israel is considering adding 4,500 permits to this in the coming months.

“Hamas has been training itself on how to swim in the sea of moderation. Refraining from joining PIJ in the latest confrontation was a concrete example of these efforts,” says Palestinian analyst and former Information Minister Nabeel Amr.

Analyst Ghaith al-Omari, Sr. Fellow at The Washington Institute and former advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team which drafted the Geneva Accord notes, however, that voices of moderation in Hamas remain a minority in the movement which has little appetite for more than transactional engagement:

“Hamas has tried to capitalize on previous rounds of conflict in Gaza to gain wider diplomatic recognition, but to no avail. After the most recent round, Hamas is trying to present itself as a ‘responsible actor’, yet there is nothing to indicate that things will be different for the terrorist organization this time. While it has successfully established transactional relations with Israel and Egypt when it comes to maintaining day-to-day stability, these relationships remain adversarial at their core. As a result, while Hamas was immediately ‘rewarded’ for its neutrality with the reinstatement of economic measures that were suspended during the fighting, there is little appetite to engage it diplomatically.”

“Regionally, Hamas remains isolated as most Arab states continue to view any Islamist organization with suspicion. Even Hamas’ regional political allies – most notably Turkey – are warming up to Israel. And globally, Hamas’ continued espousal of terrorism makes it an unacceptable interlocutor for any western government,” Omari adds.


Civilian Casuatlies: The Real Cost of Operation Breaking Dawn - OPINION

"The casualties of Operation Breaking Dawn are human, political and moral. They entail increased acceptance of a status quo that continuously erodes the value we place on democratic representation and blunts our ability to perceive the other side as human."
At the same time, Hamas’ growing political influence cannot be overlooked. For its part, the PA – with its ageing leadership  and deep legitimacy crisis – was missing in action. While PA President Mahmoud Abbas conducts his campaign against Israel in the diplomatic arena exclusively, Hamas has managed to pull off an impressive balancing act, walking a fine line between violent resistance movement and pragmatic leaders of the Gaza Strip. Its ability to elicit economic gestures from Israel – all without compromising too significantly on its identity as an armed resistance group – only underscores the PA’s inability to bring forth similar advancements in the West Bank.

“Unless the PA returns to control the Gaza Strip, Hamas-led economic improvements may reduce tensions and violence in the Gaza envelope but frustrate the achievement of a different political horizon,” says Noa Shusterman, a researcher on Israeli-Palestinian relations at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).

Omari adds: “The best that can be hoped for in the short term is to better fine-tune the current regime in Gaza to buy more time between rounds of conflict until political changes on the ground make it possible to produce a new diplomatic and security regime.”

This dilemma – in which neither Palestinian pragmatism nor armed struggle seems to motivate Israel to engage in meaningful progress towards a comprehensive agreement – means that the next cycle of violence is only a matter of time.

The TSI’s “Ties between West Bank & Gaza” rises from 2 to 3 this month, reflecting how the impact of one event in the West Bank led to escalation in Gaza. The reverse-scale “Prospect for War” parameter drops from 4 to 3, with both Israel and Hamas indicating they are not currently interested in a full-scale war. The “Humanitarian & Economic Conditions” parameter falls from 6 to 5,  with the cumulative humanitarian toll of repeated cycles of war in Gaza undeniable and devastating.

"Indifference Kills" - OPINION

GI Project Manager Ben Silberstein’s Hebrew Facebook post about the disproportionate coverage of an Israeli military dog killed in action and Palestinian civilian casualties in the recent escalation went viral throughout Israeli media.
Israel Election Forecast: The Role of the Israeli-Palestinian Issue in the Leadup to the Vote

With Israel set to head to the polls on November 1st, parties are busy shuffling their decks and setting their starting lineups in what is shaping up to be another razor-thin race. Here’s what Israel’s political landscape looks like two months before the vote:

The Pro-Netanyahu Bloc: With opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party dominating the right-wing vote, an obvious alliance with the extreme right and ultra-Orthodox parties positions Netanyahu well within grasp of the premiership.

“Netanyahu’s primary interest is a coalition that will save him from his legal woes. His allies include ultra-Orthodox parties, who are concerned primarily with the religious and economic  interests of their constituencies, and far-right nationalist parties, who are ideologically motivated to advance full Jewish control over the West Bank. The common denominator in the campaign is attacking and labelling all others who are not aligned with these goals as a threat to the national interests of Israel – all without offering any substantive positions on the issues at hand, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” says Gadi Baltiansky, Director of the Geneva Initiative. 
The Change Bloc: With a slight boost in approval following his managing of this month’s escalation in Gaza, interim PM and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is slowly chipping away at the gap with Netanyahu while making efforts to consolidate the left-wing blocDefense Minister Benny Gantz, meanwhile, is focused on strengthening his image as the only candidate capable of forming a coalition with parties from the two main blocs. 

Both Lapid and Netanyahu are also facing a challenge by the newly-formed National Unity Party – a three-way alliance between Former IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Likud defector Gideon Sa'ar. While the party is primarily focused on a rightward shift in a bid to challenge Netanyahu to form a right-wing coalition, the party may also attract centrist voters away from Lapid, whose support for the two-state solution and reported desire to advance a peace process with the Palestinians may be off-putting to those in the anti-Netanyahu camp who oppose such a move.

“There are major ideological differences between the parties that make up this bloc. From a total opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state (Ministers Gideon Sa’ar and Ze’ev Elkin for example), to total support for Israel’s withdrawal to 1967 borders (Meretz). The common denominator for this bloc is the very real danger they see to the democratic nature and values of Israel if Netanyahu, bolstered by far-right parties, rises to power once again,” Baltiansky says.
The Arab Vote: Since the historic decision of Raam leader Mansour Abbas to join the governing coalition, Arab society has been increasingly divided over whether this helped Arab society or hurt the Palestinian cause by legitimizing a system that most Arab voters and politicians say does not represent their interests or views. Recent polls project a record low turnout among Arab voters this time around, and predict 8-10 seats for Arab MKs (roughly 8% of the total seats in Israel’s Knesset) – an astoundingly disproportionate representation of Arab society which makes up close to 20% of the total Israeli population.

“Those who have recommended time and time again that Arab parties focus less on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and more on socioeconomic issues relevant to Israeli-Arab society have so far been proven wrong. The identification of the Israeli-Arabs with Palestinians beyond the Green Line continues to grow, and the fact that the issue is so marginalized on the Israeli political agenda has led to increasing detachment among Arab voters. The turnout of Arab voters will ultimately determine the results of this election. And yet for a majority of Israeli-Arabs, there are no significant differences between the policies of the right-wing and the left-wing on the issues that matter most to them. As a result, it will take a significant effort to raise Arab voter turnout beyond 50% this time around,” says Baltiansky.
In summary… Although the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more prominent on the Israeli political agenda than it has been in previous election campaigns, conflict resolution policy is by far not the main issue by which Israeli voters will cast their ballots. As a result, political leaders from across the spectrum are absolved of expressing their views or outlining concrete policy proposals on the way forward in the conflict. Unfortunately, this is true both of veteran Israeli politicians, whose views are well-known, as well as for political newcomers such as former Israeli army chief Gadi Eisenkot, for example, who believes that the future of the State of Israel ultimately depends on the steps we take today to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflictKeep an eye on your inbox for a Special Edition on Israel’s 2022 election in October!

The TSI’s Israeli Public Opinion parameter rises from 4 to 5 this month, and the Israeli Public Discourse parameter rises from 6 to 7, as pre-election rhetoric invigorates discourse on the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Palestinians Killed in West Bank Raids, Prisoners Held Without Trial Hit Highest Levels in More than a Decade
Figures published this month show that Israel is currently holding 723 detainees in prison without trial – the highest number of administrative detainees held since 2008. Meanwhile, at least 85 Palestinians have been killed this year in an intensifying Israeli crackdown and near-nightly military raids across the West Bank making it the deadliest year on record since 2016.

Eleven of the detainees are Israeli-Arabs, the rest Palestinians from the West Bank. The figures also show a sharp rise in administrative detention orders issued in the last month, with 52 added just in August. According to the Palestine Prisoner’s Society (PPS), some 400 Palestinians have been detained from the Jenin governorate alone since the beginning of 2022 – with Israel arresting on average 15 Palestinians every day across the West Bank.

“The current Israeli government led by Lapid is trying to prove to supporters of Netanyahu that it is also capable of preserving security with a strong hand, and is taking extreme measures to do so,” says Qadora Faris, Director of Palestinian Prisoner Club. 

The new figures also come as administrative detainee Khalil Awawdeh, ended a 181-day hunger strike following a reported agreement with Israel, mediated by Egypt, to end his detention as of October 2nd.
Shocking images of Awawdeh's emaciated body had sparked international condemnation, and his release was a central Palestinian demand made as part of an Egyptian-mediated a ceasefire that ended three-days of fighting in Gaza earlier this month.

Revisit the TSI's Special Edition on Palestinian Prisoners to learn more about how and why Palestinian prisoner resistance and solidarity has developed into a central feature of the wider Palestinian liberation movement.

The TSI’s “Palestinian Attacks (West Bank)” parameter drops from 6 to 5 this month, while the “IDF Military Actions (West Bank)” parameter rises from 7 to 8 amid an intense and ongoing crackdown in Palestinian towns, villages, and cities across the territory.

Despite Certain US Veto, Palestinians Push for UN Membership Upgrade in Bid to Keep Two State Solution on Global Agenda

Ahead of next month’s UN General Assembly meeting, PA President Mahmoud Abbas will embark on a diplomatic campaign to upgrade Palestine’s status from observer-state to full member. The initiative is largely seen as a non-starter: Upgrading the Palestinians’ UN membership requires the support of 9 of 15 Security Council members to even hold a vote, and a US veto is almost a certainty.

But Palestinian analysts say the initiative isn’t necessarily an attempt to pressure Israel to return to the negotiation table, rather an effort to keep the two-state solution on the global agenda and keep alive the idea of a Palestinian state amid Washington’s apparent unwillingness to advance a diplomatic peace initiative.

“Being vetoed by the US has never been a problem for any Palestinian leader. On the contrary, defying the US administration as an unlimited supporter of Israel has always been a badge of honor to any leader in the eyes of the Palestinian people,” says analyst Ibrahim Dalalsha.

Abbas has already discussed the matter with both US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron. The effort was also the focus of Abbas’ visit to Germany this month, which was overshadowed by global furor at the PA President’s remarks that Israel has perpetrated “50 Holocausts” against Palestinians.

The UNGA had been pegged by analysts as a possible forum for a photo-opportunity handshake between Abbas and Israeli PM Yair Lapid, but outrage at home over Abbas’ comments is likely to quash any hope of any such encounter. There are no changes to relevant TSI parameters this month.
Other Developments:
  • Israel Raids Offices of Palestinian NGOs Designated Terror Groups: Israeli military forces raided and sealed the Ramallah offices of several Palestinian NGOs after ratifying an earlier decision to declare the organizations terror groups linked to the PFLP. Both the UN and EU have condemned the Israeli decision. Washington has also expressed concern over the NGO closures, amid accusations that the decision is an attempt to silence criticism of alleged Israeli rights abuses.

  • Tel Aviv Municipality Schools Hang Maps Showing ‘Green Line’: Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality has distributed maps showing the Green Line separating the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the Syrian Golan Heights from Israel to be hung in some 2,000 classrooms across the city. The maps, which include a key demarcating the line as Israel’s “sovereignty border”, were ordered removed by Israel’s Education Ministry. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai has vowed that the maps will remain in classrooms, writing in a letter to schools: “It is important to us that the students get to know the limits of Israeli sovereignty and the complex reality in the areas where Jewish citizens of Israel live alongside Arabs under the control of the Palestinian Authority”.

  • US asks Israel to Review ‘Rules of Engagement’ as Officials Demand ‘Accountability’ in Abu Akleh Killing: The US reportedly took the unusual step of requesting that Israel review the IDF’s rules of engagement in the West Bank as officials in Washington face mounting pressure to pursue Israeli accountability for the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. The request was reportedly made by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a phone call to Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz. The matter was also raised during a meeting between US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev in Washington.
The Two-State Index (TSI) is part of the Two-State Coalition (TSC) that 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 part of the Two-State Coalition project, produced by an Israeli-Palestinian team, and reflects a unique bilateral perspective.
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