From the new colonies to the metropolis: how the one regime changes the Israel-Palestine question

By Menachem Klein

(reprinted from LOGOS*)

This is a much-extended and updated version of a previously published article.[1]

Israel’s November, 2022, election results, which led to the establishment of a far right coalition with radical settlers occupying key positions in the ministries of finance, defence and home security, surprised many on the left and the centre. Their politicians, spin-doctors and journalists rooted the defeat in campaign faults and their parties’ disunity in contrast to the unified right wing.

This technical excuse, however, ignores deeper long-term changes that Israeli society has gone through. To the contrary, the Left-Zionist author, David Grossman, argues “everything that has happened in Israel since the election is ostensibly legal and democratic. But under its cover – as has happened more than once in history – the seeds of chaos, emptiness and disorder have been sown in Israel’s most vital institutions.”[2] Moreover, people who previously rejected ultra-right radicalism, including its Jewish superiority claim, revealed in Facebook discussions that the April -May, 2021, confrontations pushed them to the extreme right.

In April and May of 2021, Israelis and Palestinians confronted one another in several places over what are commonly understood as loosely interrelated events. First, in April, Israeli police banned East Jerusalem residents from celebrating Ramada night at the Old City’s illuminated Damascus Gate steps by barricading the area. Each year at Ramada nights, the place attracts many young people. Indeed, mutual verbal and physical attacks of Jewish and Arab passers-by occurred in the nearby streets, but the protesters on the Gate steps were mostly peaceful and supported across the generational divide. The police, however, used force to disperse them, regardless of the heavy media coverage that documented it. After 12 nights of confrontations, the police gave-up.

Secondly, in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, a Palestinian sit-in protest against the expulsion of 27 households in favour of Jewish settlers attracted Jewish right-wing activists. When violence erupted between the sides, the Israeli police reacted aggressively against the Palestinians, once again, in front of heavy media coverage. Imposed on Jerusalem’s Palestinians, Israeli law provides former Jewish owners, or those who represent them (the settlers), the ownership of buildings that they possessed prior to 1948 war or inherited. Contrarily, Palestinian refugees, including those who live in Sheikh Jarrah who face expulsion, are legally denied claims to ownership of their pre-1948 war property in West Jerusalem.[3]

Indeed, the legal battle between settlers’ associations and Sheikh Jarrah 1948-war refugees that faced eviction started in 1972. Subsequently, in 2008-2010, settlers occupied three houses whose Palestinian residents were forced to evacuate. For a decade, Friday afternoon demonstrations by a small group of Israelis and Palestinian remained a local event. Nonetheless, in May, 2021, adjacent to Damascus Gate clashes, young Palestinian activists succeeded in reframing the case from a local problem to an all-Palestinian and international issue. 

The Sheikh Jarrah struggle is unique in combining settlement building in 1967 occupied areas with the 1948 war refugee problem. It reminds many Palestinians that 1948 deportation is not just their collective memory but also actual experience in the 1967 occupied territories. As the crisis gained momentum and the international pressure to solve it increased, the Israeli Supreme Court, to whom the case had been brought after lower courts approved the eviction, suggested a compromise. The Israeli Government accepted, but the Sheikh Jarrah residents did not. [4]

Thirdly, also coinciding during the holy month of Ramadan, Israel refused to let the East Jerusalemites vote in the planned Palestinian Legislative Council elections as they did in the 1996 and 2006 elections. This led Mahmoud Abbas, most probably in coordination with Israel, to postpone the elections indefinitely. It deeply disappointed and frustrated the Palestinian public (see below). 

Fourthly, starting on May 7, four days of violent clashes between Israeli police forces and Palestinians at Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif compound and inside al-Aqsa Mosque broke out, ending with 153 Palestinians and eight police officers hospitalised. The Palestinians opposed the Israeli authorities’ decision to let thousands of national-religious Jews march provocatively through the Old City celebrating the occupation of East Jerusalem in the 1967 war.[5]

When Israel approved the rout of the nationalist march [the “Dance of Flags”] across the Old City and rejected Hamas’s ultimatum to withdraw its forces from the Temple Mount/Haram, Hamas launched rockets on Jerusalem. A new round of violence opened (“The Guardian of the Walls” as Israel named it, “Jerusalem’s Sword” according to Hamas). It lasted 11 days, during which 256 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed and 1,900 Palestinians and 200 Israelis injured.      

I argue below, first, that the April-May 2021 conflict was the culmination of a gradual process in which the centre of gravity of Israel-Palestinian hostilities has moved from the 1967 colonial periphery, i.e. from the Gaza Strip borders and West Bank hilltops, to the heart of the country

The Temple Mount and East Jerusalem are both the symbolic and actual centres of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The May, 2021, conflict with Hamas, despite its heavy casualties, was secondary to the main frontline in Jerusalem and other Israeli cities. 

Secondly, I beg to differ with the common wisdom that the May, 2021, clashes between Jews and Arabs in mixed cities were a side effect of that month’s Israel-Hamas war or the urban riots of criminals and political extremists. Rather, I argue, it was a small-scale civil war and the result of structural changes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 1990s. This essay discusses those changes and their implications for a future Israeli-Palestinian peace process. 

Methodologically this paper is a current event analysis based on media reports. Political science theory is not my point of departure. Rather, I first ask what happened on the ground since the late 1990s, and second how those events can be explained.  

I start by summing up how the single regime that Israel accomplished between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean developed and what are its structural impacts on Israel and the Palestinian Authority’s political systems. Seeing the single regime as their framework, I move to discuss Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and Temple Mount/Haram conflicts, followed by showing their link to recent developments among the Israeli Palestinians. In May, 2021, all these clashes came together and created a small-scale civil war.  

The erasure of the 1949 armistice line (the Green Line) 

During the peace process between Israel and the PLO (1993-2014), the gaps between the parties narrowed just slightly until their dialogue reached an ongoing impasse.[6]  Moreover, a significant gulf appeared between the political talks and the reality on the ground. In the Camp David (2000) and Annapolis (2007-8) talks, possible borders for a final settlement were discussed.[7] In reality, however, the difference between an Israeli sovereign area within the pre-1967 war lines and its occupation beyond them became increasingly blurred.

The Oslo agreement[8] allows Israel to keep more than 60 per cent of the West Bank area (marked in the agreement as area C) with its settlements and army bases under its full control until the sides conclude their peace agreement. Since no moratorium on settlements expansion was included in the interim agreement, Israel created facts on the ground.  Be this a negotiating tactic or an intention to stop the political process in response to pressure from the Israeli right, since the Oslo Accords Israel has expanded its settlements and their population.

From 1967 to the end of 2020, Israel established 279 settlements with more than 685,000 people, of which 233,700 live in the unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem. Close examination of settler growth shows that in 1994 there were 307,800 settlers: 127,800 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and 180,000 in East Jerusalem. The number more than doubled during the negotiation years (from 307,800 to 650,870) in particular in the West Bank (from 127,800 to 441,600).[9] The expansion of settlements frustrated the Palestinians, undermined their confidence in a fair peace process and contributed to the outbreak of the second Intifada in the year 2000. 

The severe Palestinian violence in the second intifada (2000-2005) increased IDF and Israeli Security Service (ISS) forces in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In 2002 (operation Defensive Shield), Israel reoccupied the Palestinian Authority (hereafter the PA) area ) marked as areas A and B in the Oslo agreement), bringing the PA, then under President Arafat, to the verge of total collapse. Israel permitted reconstruction of the PA only when Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) was elected President (2005) and forged close security cooperation with Israel including unlimited Israeli operations in PA regions. Israel established a new order in which the distinctions between areas A, B, and C grew blurred in addition to the erasure of the dividing line between sovereign Israel and the occupied West Bank. Similarly, the security forces -settler symbiosis grew unprecedentedly.[10]According to Prof. Yagil Levi, in the 2000s a ‘policing’ force emerged in the West Bank alongside the ‘regular’ IDF. The settlers that live and operate next to the ‘policing’ army exercise several control mechanisms over them.[11]    

In other words, Israeli sovereignty agents, both security forces and settlers, operate throughout the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean and implement wide effective control practices

The decline of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in general, and of the discussion on the border in particular, insured the single regime, in which the PA is actually a “sub-contractor” for Israel. This regime is built around the principle of separation between Palestinian groups – citizens of Israel, permanent residents in East Jerusalem, residents of the West Bank, and residents of the Gaza Strip. Each group is given a different basket of limited rights and political status.[12] Moreover, the evacuation of settlements and army bases from the Gaza Strip (2005) did not end Israeli control over that area. It was not a complete disengagement as Israel claimed, but replacing control from within the Strip with occupying it from the outside.

As such, Gaza differs from the West Bank, where two ethnic groups live on the same piece of land with different legal status. As individuals and as organised communities in municipalities or local councils, Israeli law and institutions govern the settlers. No physical, legal or administrative barrier divides them from pre-1967 war Israel. Their Palestinian neighbours, however, are ruled by the military law or the Palestinian Authority jurisdiction. The supreme Israeli regime imposes on them ethno-geographic division lines. The only place where Israel uses the Green Line as a marker is the Gaza Strip. Israel besieges Gaza Strip militarily, whereas in the West Bank it implements a mix of de facto annexation, apartheid and military occupation practices.[13]  

‘The single regime’s political impacts

Since 2008, the international community gave up mediating an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. In 2014, then US Secretary of State, John Kerry, sought only to ensure that the way to a future two-state solution is not obstructed.[14] In contrast, President Donald Trump’s peace plan of 2020 aimed to close the door on a two-state solution. The plan offered the Palestinians no more than barely connected autonomous areas under over-all Israeli superiority.[15] Today, with Trump’s plan off the table and no peace talks, what remains is the one regime that practically annexes the West Bank. Moreover, the Abraham Accords (2020) reflected a change in the Israeli-Palestinian issue from prominent pan-Arab support for the Palestinians to a marginal matter for most Middle East regimes, if not a domestic Israeli problem pertaining to its citizens and subjects. 

Many in Israel and Palestine reached the conclusion that the single regime is irreversible. A joint public opinion poll made in October, 2020, found that 56 per cent of the Palestinians and 42 per cent of the Israelis oppose the two-state solution. This solution is preferred to all alternatives but its achievement looks unrealistic. The unequal single state is more popular among both sides (35 per cent of the Israelis and 36 of the Palestinians support it) than frameworks based on equality such as a two states confederation (supported by 30 per cent of Israelis and 29 per cent of Palestinians) or equal state (27 per cent on each side). The poll concludes that a substantial hardening of attitudes has occurred on both sides.[16] In other words, prior to the April-May clashes, many Jews assumed that Jewish superiority will last, whereas Palestinians believed that what is reversible is Jewish pre-eminence within the one regime. They favoured Palestinian dominance in a single state or full equality between the two ethnic groups. 

The failure of talks with Israel deprived the Abu Mazen Government of public support. PSR public opinion polls since 2016 show that between 60 to 78 per cent of the PA population demand his resignation. In a July, 2021, poll, 65 per cent opposed his decision to postpone the elections. In September, 2021, only 24 per cent of the PA population were satisfied with Abu Mazen’s performance, and 73 per cent dissatisfied.[17] In December, 2022, 72 per cent of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip supported the formation of armed groups, 69 per cent supported holding general elections now and 75 per cent demanded Abbas’s resignation. Only 32 per cent supported the two-state solution and 69 per cent think it’s no longer feasible because of the expansion of settlements.[18]   

Having lost public support, Abbas relies on the PA mechanisms of force at its disposal as well as those of Israel. Cooperation with Israel and Abu Mazen’s authoritarian rule have undermined the West Bank political community.[19] The announcement of PA elections aroused expectations for a re-organisation of the political system. However, when they were cancelled on the pretext that they could not be held without East Jerusalem voting (which Israel prevented) the disappointment increased.

Hamas issued a call to hold elections either without the few thousand voters in only six voting stations that Israel forbade or by bypassing the Israeli objection to electronic voting.[20] A June, 2021, public opinion poll result shows that more than 65 per cent oppose Abbas’s decision to postpone the elections. An almost equal percentage, 69, want Abbas to reverse his decision (in September it stood at 73 per cent).[21]

Moreover, a majority of 77 per cent believed in June, 2021, that Hamas had come out as the winner in the May confrontation with Israel. In September, it was slightly lower at 71 per cent.[22] Thus, Hamas fills the political vacuum that the weakened Abbas and divided Fatah created. Since its foundation in late 1987, Hamas has undergone a politicisation process from a religious fundamentalist movement to a national-religious ruling party that is unwilling to recognise the State of Israel formally but accepts a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines.[23]In September, 2021, based on its perception of Jerusalem and as Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif defender, 45 per cent of the PA public thought that Hamas deserved to lead the Palestinians, and only 19 per cent supported Fatah under Abbas.[24]

The ethnic base of the single regime has a profound impact on the socio-political infrastructure of the Israel and PA Governments. Israel’s lack of political stability is evidenced by the five general elections between 2019 -2022. Its liberal-democratic deficit was demonstrated by the increase in power of a Jewish supremacy Zionist-religious party that in last this year elections became the third party in size with 14 Knesset members.[25] The authoritarian regime in Ramallah, on the other hand, is not just based on Mahmoud Abbas’s ambitions, corruption, and wrong practices. Rather, it is a component of the Israeli political order. As Mahmoud Abbas’s effective control is weakening, the vast majority of the Palestinians can discern indications of anarchy and internal armed strife between West Bank armed groups.[26] The single regime, rather, creates instability and deep social divisions that the dysfunctional political system is unable to bridge or uninterested in bridging.  

So, the conflict’s focal point has moved from the colonial periphery in the West Bank and Gaza Strip borders to Jerusalem neighbourhoods adjacent to the Old City and the Temple Mount/Haram.

In Menachem Klein’s next part, he will show how this political process has developed

* The Balfour Project is grateful to the US quarterly journal LOGOS, covering modern culture, politics and society, for permission to reprint Menachem Klein’s article, which the BP has divided into two parts for its website. The second part will appear in late February/early March 2023. The whole original article will remain in full on our website.

Footnotes to PART 1

[1] This is a much-extended and updated version of Menachem Klein and Yohanan Tzoref, Operation Guardian of the Walls: Moving the Conflict from the Periphery to Jerusalem and the Heart of the Country? INSS Insight, June 2021 in

[2] David Grossman, For Israel There Is No Way Back From Netanyahu’s Chaos, Haaretz, December 28, 2022 in

[3] Paul Adams, Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarah: The Land Dispute in the Eye of a Storm, BBC May 26, 2021 in  

[4] Nir Hasson “Jerusalem Clashes: How Palestinian Rallied Behind Sheikh Jarah”, Haaretz May 8, 2021, in ; Al-Jazeera, US Expresses Concern as Israeli Police Crack Down in Jerusalem, May, 8 2021 in ; Khaled Abu Toameh Tova Lazaroff, Sheikh Jarah Residents in Jerusalem reject High Court Compromise, The Jerusalem Post November 2, 2021.  

[5] Times of Israel May 7, 2021 in;   YNET News and AP, May 10, 2021 in ; International Crisis Group, The Israel-Palestine Crisis: Causes, Consequences, Portents, May 14, 2021 in ; International Crisis Group, Beyond Business as Usual in Israel – Palestine, 10 August, 2021 in . 

[6] Summary of the last round of talks in relation to previous ones is in Udi Dekel and Lia Moran-Gilad, The Annapolis Process: A Missed Opportunity for a Two States Solution?  INSS Memorandum May 2021 in In contrast, track two talks achieved the Geneva Imitative. See Menachem Klein, A Possible Pease between Israel and Palestine, An Insider’s Account of the Geneva Initiative, London: Hurst and New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.   

[7] The maps the sides exchanged are in Shaul Arieli website

[8] An interactive map of Oslo Accord is available in

[9] ;;

[10] Menachem Klein, The Sift, Israel-Palestine from Border Struggle to Ethnic Conflict, New York: Columbia University, 2010, pp. 47-88; Nir Gazit, “Military (Non-) Policing in the Occupied Territories”, Israel Studies Review 35 (2) 2020, pp. 77-100. Breaking the Silence, On Duty, Settlers’ Violence Soldiers’ Testimonies 2012-2020  in

[11] Yagil Levi, “Who Controls the Israeli Policing Army?”, Israel Studies Review, Volume 35 Issue 2, 2020, pp. 58-76. 

[12] Ian S. Lustick, Paradigm Lost from Two-States Solution to One-State Reality, University of Pennsylvania 2019;   Menachem Klein, The Shift, Israel – Palestine from Border Struggle to Ethnic Conflict, London: Hurst and New York: Columbia University Press 2010. 

[13] Yesh Din, The Occupation of the West Bank and the Crime of Apartheid: Legal Opinion, July 2020 in . Human Rights Watch, A Threshold Crossed, Israeli Authorities and the Crime of Apartheid and Persecution, April 2021, in

[14] Times of Israel, Full Text of John Kerry’s  Speech on Middle East Peace, December 28, 2016 in

[15] The White House, Peace to Prosperity, A Vision to Improve the lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People, in

[16] PSR, in ;

[17] PSR

[18] PSR

[19] Menachem Klein, Arafat and Abbas Portraits of Leadership in a State Postponed, London: Hurst and New York Oxford University, 2019 pp. 93-150. 

[20] AP in

[21] PSR, in ;

[22] Policy and Survey Research, Public Opinion Poll No. 80, June 15, 2021 in

[23] Tareq Baconi, Hamas Contained the Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance, Stanford University 2018; Menachem Klein, Hamas in Power, Middle East Journal Vol. 61 No. 3 (Summer 2007), pp. 442-459. 

[24] PSR in

[25] Dahlia Scheindlin, The Logic behind Israel’s Democratic Erosion, The Century Foundation, May 29, 2019 in

[26] PSR public opinion poll 20 September 2022 in Press Release: Public Opinion Poll No (85) | PCPSR

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