An Israeli military bulldozer seen leveling roads and destroying the center of the Jenin refugee camp during a raid on the camp near the west bank city of Jenin, July 3, 2023. (Photo: Nasser Ishtayeh/Sopa images via Zuma press wire/Apa images)

The op-ed was originally published at Jadaliyya

Israel's latest assault on Jenin Refugee Camp, the largest since its 2002 invasion that laid waste to much of the camp, is designed to achieve a number of military and political objectives. Taken together these aim to make the West Bank safe for intensified Israeli colonization and, ultimately, formal annexation.

As with previous Israeli operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip this one is likely to significantly degrade the Palestinian organizational infrastructure, and in the process deliberately inflict an enormous cost upon its civilian counterpart. Yet success at the strategic level will remain elusive; there is little reason to believe that Israel will today succeed where it failed not only in 2002, but repeatedly in the intervening years. Indeed, the fact of Israel's current attack, and the reality that is being unleashed against an emboldened and more sophisticated Palestinian adversary, demonstrates the temporary nature of its earlier achievements.

At the same time the weakness of a Palestinian national movement beset by fragmentation and disintegration prevents it from translating Israel's failures into Palestinian progress. The repeatedly proclaimed "unity of the arenas", for example, thus far remains a slogan rather than collective defense agreement, and earlier this year failed to materialize even within the Gaza Strip when Israel assassinated a number of senior Islamic Jihad cadres and Hamas refrained from direct involvement. Israel's campaign to transform the Palestinians from a unified people to a politically inconsequential demographic presence thus continues.

It's tempting to view the Israeli invasion of Jenin as a product of the current Israeli government's extremist composition and agenda. Yet the relevant operational plans were formulated a year ago under its Bennett-Lapid predecessor, demonstrating that Israeli policy towards the Palestinians is primarily characterized by continuity and implemented by institutions rather than individual whim.

The catalyst for this operation was the changing landscape of Palestinian resistance in the northern West Bank. No longer dominated by either the factions or individual initiatives, new groups such as the Lion's Den in Nablus recruited from across the board, and unencumbered by the political calculations of established leaders, commenced with regular and escalating attacks against the occupation army and Israel's settlers. Their activities won them not only popular acclaim but also inspired the emergence of additional local militant groups, such as the Jenin Brigades. Over time these formations developed connections both with each other and with paramilitaries affiliated with established factions. 

Acting in close collaboration with Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) worked intensively to eradicate these groups. But thoroughly emasculated by Israel and never deployed to defend Palestinians from nightly Israeli military raids or settler pogroms, the PA security forces lacked the legitimacy, popular acquiescence, and often also the motivation to perform this task. In 2004-2005 Israel's categorical refusal to coordinate its Gaza redeployment with the PA reduced the latter to political irrelevance and helped lay the groundwork for Hamas's subsequent seizure of power. In the West Bank its determination to reduce the PA to a sub-contractor for the occupation, coupled with PA leader Mahmoud Abbas's inability to transcend the role of compliant quisling, had a similar impact on the fortunes of those who prioritized the armed defense of their people.

As Palestinian militants carried out increasingly bold attacks in response to Israel's relentless encroachment on their lands and lives, Israel conducted a series of increasingly violent incursions into Palestinian population centers to eliminate them. It rarely took prisoners, and routinely and indiscriminately killed civilian non-combatants while inflicting extensive destruction....

Read the full op-ed at Jadaliyya