From the New Colonies to the Metropolis: How the One Regime Changes the Israel-Palestine Conflict *

*This is a much-extended and updated version of a previously published article.


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, defense and home security, surprised many on the left and the center. 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 – May 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 twelve nights of confrontations, the police gave-up.

Second, in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, a Palestinian sit-in protest against the expulsion of 27 households in favor 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 over buildings that they possessed prior to 1948 war or inherited. Nevertheless, Palestinian refugees, including those who live in Sheikh Jarrah that face expulsion, are legally denied claims 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, Fridays’ afternoon demonstration 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 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]

Third, 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 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). 

Fourth, starting on May 7th, 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 8 police officers hospitalized. 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’ ultimatum to withdraw its forces from the Temple Mount, Hamas launched rockets on Jerusalem. A new round of violence (“The Guardian of the Walls” as Israel named it, “Jerusalem’s Sward” according to Hamas) opened. It lasted eleven days during which 256 Palestinians and 13 Israelis have been killed and 1900 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 center 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 centers 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. 

Second, 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 neighborhood and Temple Mount 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 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 over 60 percent of the West Bank area (marked in the agreement as area C) with its settlements and army bases under her 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 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 mechanism 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 means from within the Strip with occupying it through the outsider ring. 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 organized communities in municipalities or local councils, Israeli law and institutions govern the settlers. No physical, legal or administrative barrier divide them from pre-1967 war Israel. Their Palestinian neighbors, 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 sieges 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, only sought 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 for a two-state solution. The plan offered the Palestinians no more than barely connected autonomous areas under overall 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 a 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 percent of the Palestinians and 42 percent of the Israelis oppose the two-state solution. This solution is preferred over all alternatives but its achievement looks unrealistic. The unequal single state is more popular among both sides (35 percent of the Israelis and 36 of the Palestinians support it) than frameworks based on equality such as two states confederation (supported by 30 percent Israelis and 29 percent Palestinians) or equal state (27 percent in 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 favored 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 percent of the PA population demand his resignation. In a July 2021 poll, 65 percent opposed his decision to postpone the elections. In September 2021, only 24 percent of the PA population were satisfied with Abu Mazen performance, and 73 percent dissatisfied.[17] In December 2022, 72% of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip supported the formation of armed groups, 69% supported holding general elections now and 75% demanded Abbas’ resignation. Only 32% supported the two-state solution and 69% think it’s no longer feasible due to 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-organization 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 called to hold elections either without the few thousand voters in only six voting stations that Israel forbid or by bypassing the Israeli objection to electronic voting.[20] A June 2021 public opinion poll results show that over 65 percent oppose Abbas’ decision to postpone the elections. Almost an equal percentage, 69 percent, want Abbas to reverse his decision (in September it stood at 73 percent).[21]

Moreover, a majority of 77 percent 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 percent.[22] Thus, Hamas fills the political vacuum that the weakened Abbas and divided Fatah created. Since its foundation in late 1987, Hama has undergone a politicization process from a religious fundamentalist movement to a national-religious ruling party that is unwilling to recognize 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 defender, 45 percent of the PA public thought that Hamas deserved to lead the Palestinians, and only 19 percent supported Fatah under Abbas.[24]

The ethnic base of the single regime has a profound impact on the socio-political infrastructure of the Jerusalem and Ramallah governments. Israel’s lack of political stability is evidenced by the five general elections between 2019 -2022. Its liberal-democratic deficit approved in the uprising of 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 his ambitions, corruption, and wrong practices. Rather, it is a component of the Israeli political order. As Mahmoud Abbas’ effective control is weakening, the vast majority of the Palestinians identify 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 or uninterested in bridging.  

As the one regime based, the conflict focal point moved from the colonial periphery in the West Bank and Gaza Strip borders to Jerusalem neighborhoods adjacent to the Old City and the Temple Mount. Hereafter I show how it developed. 

Jerusalem Neighborhoods

The death of Faisal Hosseini, the senior Palestinian leader in East Jerusalem, in May 2001, and Israel’s order to close the Orient House, the PLO headquarter, in August of that year, left East Jerusalemites without local leadership. The leadership vacuum that Israel carefully maintains crumbles East Jerusalem political society and spawned spontaneous civil society groupings engaged in violent and non-violent struggle. Moreover, after Camp David 2000 Jewish settlers in Palestinian neighborhoods changed direction. In order to forestall the division of Jerusalem along the lines proposed by President Clinton in late 2000 accordingly “Arab areas are Palestinian and Jewish ones are Israeli”[27], they spread from the Muslim Quarter in the Old City, where they dedicated their efforts in the 1980s, to neighborhoods surrounding the Old City, in particular Silwan and Shieh Jarrah. Their number is not high, about 3000 in 2017,[28] but they evoke constant tension and conflicts with their Palestinian neighbors. To increase the number of Jewish presence in Silwan without residing there, a settler association operates the City of David tourism and antiquities site that in the mid-2010s attracted almost half a million visitors annually.[29]    

In summer 2014, following the kidnap and murder of three teenage Israeli boys in the West Bank by Hamas activists, which led Israel to attack the Gaza Strip (operation Protective Edge), a group of three Jewish Jerusalemites kidnaped and murdered Mouhammad Abu Khdeir, a 16 year old boy from East Jerusalem. Riots erupted between angry young East Jerusalem activists and the Israeli police, particularly near Abu Khdeir family home in north Jerusalem. Abu Khdeir’s murder added to the tension that Jewish Temple Mount activists and senior politicians raised a few weeks earlier. “The summer of 2014 was marked by riots and violence, particularly along the seam line between Jewish and Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and in mixed neighborhoods. There were approximately 13,000 incidents of rock-throwing and firebombs, aiming fireworks at people, three car ramming, and two shootings that targeted Jews…Thousands of Arabs, many in their teens and early twentiesjoined in the riots. In the first four months of the violence (July-October 2014), approximately a thousand rioters were apprehended and approximately 300 were charged for their actions; ten Jews were murdered in car ramming and shootings, and dozens of others were wounded. Seven Palestinians were killed in Jerusalem”.[30] The clashes that continued long after the operation in the Gaza Strip ended in late August 2014 show that they were not side effects of the Gaza Strip frontline, but rooted in Jerusalem. According to the ISS data in 2015 there were 635 terror operations in Jerusalem. Unlike the second Intifada in which the young attackers (mostly at the age 15 to 30) were related to Fatah or Hamas, in 2014-2016 they were “lone wolves” i.e. not sent by any organization. [31] Whereas the impact of the Palestinians’ violent operations was limited to those Palestinians that glorified their sacrifice, the non-violent struggle brought achievements on the ground.    

Non-violent methods united different age groups and classes, conservatives and seculars, and succeeded in effecting changes in Israeli conduct. Moreover, as I mentioned earlier, this method forced Israel, to remove police barriers next to the Damascus Gate that prevented Palestinians celebrating Ramadan nights (May 2021). In Sheikh Jarah, the popular movement and the international interest pushed Israeli cabinet to postpone the eviction and seek a compromise. Earlier, in July 2017, Israel had to remove magnetometers it established at the entrance to the Temple Mount without consulting the Waqf that manage the holy site. [32] Israel installed the metal detectors following the killing of two Israeli police officers at the Temple Mount. Indeed, Israel had sought to make it since 2014 but refrained due to Jordanian opposition. Both the Jordanians and the Palestinians saw the unilateral Israeli act as an attempt to extend the Jewish control over the place. Unlike previous clashes that were violent, this was peaceful civil disobedience. The supreme Muslim authorities ordered observers not to enter through the detectors, but, rather, to pray in the streets outside the holy compound. Soon thousands of Muslims including non-Jerusalemite Israeli citizens gathered five times a day for pray. Between prayers, civil society activists organized peaceful demonstrations with food and drink supplied by the community. Violent clashes with the police happened only in the margins of the sit-in and in East Jerusalem remote neighborhoods. The protest attracted Palestinians across the political and social spectrum, mass media cover and international pressure. After thirteen days, Israel removed the metal detectors. [33] The peaceful means brought the protestors international support and forced Israel to withdraw. In addition, the Palestinian collective act came after years of deep socio-political divisions. These two components also characterized April-May 2021 confrontations.

Temple Mount

The Temple Mount has always been the symbolic heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but currently it is also its active center. Indeed, with the outbreak of the Western Wall riots in 1929, it was both.[34] From Jerusalem, it spread to other mixed cities, and during the Arab Revolt (1936-39), the conflict spread all over Palestine reaching its climax in the 1948 war. Following the June 1967 war, backed by rabbinical consensus prohibiting Jews from entering the holy mountain where the Temple had existed, Israel let the local Waqf and Jordan manage the site.  This gradually changed after the Camp David summit of July 2000. It ended with Israel agreeing to divide Jerusalem and President Clinton suggesting that Palestine would exercise sovereignty on the Temple Mount’s surface and Israel underground.  Israeli national – religious groups aimed at the opposite. Encouraged by rabbis from mainstream Orthodoxy and right-wing politicians, they want to disrupt almost 1,400 years of exclusive Muslim worship and management. [35] Orthodox Jews visiting and praying privately on the Temple Mount, once a rare phenomenon, became common during the second decade of the 21st century (see below). A few of them go further, calling for imposing Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs model where Israel forced the Muslims to divide the space for Jewish prayer.[36]

The number of Jews visiting the Temple Mount increases. From late 2017 to early 2018, 12,125 Jews visited the site compared to 8,229 in the previous year, and from late 2020 to late 2021, 25,581 Jews entered the site.[37] More than 1,600 Jews ascended the Temple Mount on 18 July 2021 and 2,200 on 7 August 2022 to commemorate the destruction of the Jewish Temple.[38] Moreover, in the first half of 2021, Jewish prayer quorums (i.e. ten or more adult mails needed for a collective prayer) regularly pray on the site uninterrupted by the police.[39] The visitors’ agenda varied from prayer, including in a synagogue to be established there, to taking over the management of the site from the Jordanian Waqf, to forbidding Muslim prayer in order to build the third Jewish Temple.[40]      

For their part, civilian Palestinian organizations, the male Mourabitoun and the female Mourabitat, confronted the visiting Jews. Moreover, the Northern Wing of the Islamic Movement in Israel headed by Sheikh Raed Salah brought since 2000 hundreds Israeli Muslims to pray in al-Aqsa each Friday to counterbalance the Jewish visits and to demonstrate that the Temple Mount is an exclusive Muslim prayer site. In 2015, Israel outlawed the Mourabitoun and the Mourabitat, and arrested Sheikh Raid Salah. [41]  

The escalation, which often led to violent clashes between the Israeli police and Palestinian protesters, led King Abdallah of Jordan to intervene. Jordan enjoys a special status at the Temple Mount in its 1994 peace agreement with Israel and 2013 agreement with the PLO, and oversees the local Waqf. In November 2014, in response to the King’s pressure, Netanyahu reaffirmed Israel’s commitment to the status quo on the Temple Mount. For less than a year, Israel controlled Jewish visitors accordingly; but in October 2015, when an Israeli minister was documented praying at the holy site, clashes resumed. Under Jordanian and American pressure Prime Minister Netanyahu stated on October 24, 2015, that “Israel reaffirms its commitment to upholding unchanged the status quo of the Temple Mount in word and in practice… Israel has no intention to divide the Temple Mount… Muslims pray on the Temple Mount; non-Muslims visit the Temple Mount.”[42] This statement remained implemented only for a few months. Following three years of Jewish prayer and again under King Abdullah’s pressure, Prime Minister Benet, who succeeded Netanyahu, reaffirmed Israel’s commitment to the status quo.[43]  Unsurprisingly, this reassurance was written on ice . Guarded by Israeli police, Jews were documented praying collectively in August and September 2021.[44]  

Israeli Palestinians

Since 1948, the Israeli Palestinians have required more than citizenship status. They require full equality to the Jewish majority. Following the 1967 War, most of them also advocated for the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel. However, as the one regime developed, the two-state solution seems to be fading away and Israeli Jews empower the ethnic base of the state at the expense of its few liberal-democratic foundations. Israeli Palestinians connect their civic struggle with that of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.  

In the framework of one regime between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, the demographic problem for the Jewish portion of the population is not a future problem, but a present once. According to a report of the Israeli Bureau of Statistics in Israel in early 2021 there were 6,870,000 Jews and 1,956,000 Arabs (including 358, 804 East Jerusalem Arabs) and 456,000 neither Jews nor Arabs.[45] The Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 2017, shows the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, were 4,780,978 including East Jerusalem.[46] In other words, in the de-facto one regime between Jordan and the Mediterranean there are 6,870,000 Jews and 6,378,174 non-Jews, mostly Palestinians. Center-left governments that try to compromise between Israel as a Jewish state and democracy, suggested – at the Oslo and Annapolis talks – decreasing the Palestinian population by giving up territory to a small and weak Palestinian state. However, right wing governments that reject territorial concessions intensified the discourse regarding the Jewish state and push forward the preeminence of Jewish citizens over Israeli Palestinians.[47]It is expressed in the Basic Law, accepted by the Knesset in 2018, that Israel is the Nation State of the Jewish People. It states that “the Land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people”, “the State of Israel is the state of the Jewish People” and that “the exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People”. The law downgrades the Arab language from being a State language alongside Hebrew to “a special status in the State”.[48] The recent empowerment of ethnic-national awareness reinforces the religious motifs and foundations on both sides. The clashes on the Temple Mount since 2000 are an expression of this, as were the arson attacks on synagogues and mosques in Lod in May 2021 (see below).

The first evidence of this came with the second Intifada that broke out following Ariel Sharon;s provocative visit to the Temple Mount in late September 2000. Israeli Palestinians played a part in the first two weeks of that intifada. Mass demonstrations that included violence in mixed and Arab cities, towns and villages throughout Israel. They protested the government using extra force against the Palestinians in East Jerusalem and in the occupied territories at the first days of the intifada. During those clashes, the police killed 12 Israeli-Palestinian citizens. Small-scale confrontations between Israeli-Palestinian demonstrators and the police broke throughout the country during Israel’s 2008 (“Cast Lead”) and 2014 (“Protective Edge”) operations in the Gaza Strip. Driven by fear, mistrust and wanting to punish Israeli Palestinians for their violence, Jews boycott Arab business. This continued weeks after law and order was restored in mixed and Arab cities inside Israel.[49]

The shift from the Oslo years border disputes to ethnic hostilities under one regime affects the Israeli Palestinians. The new Palestinian generation is highly and professionally educated, externalize their Palestinian identity, and are more involved in Israeli society than their predecessors were. The anthropologist Dan Rabinowitz and Khawla Abu-Baker call them the “Stand-Tall” Generation. Unlike the survivors of the 1948 generation, which Israel subordinated, and the next generation that was just the spearhead of Israeli-Palestinians’ civil struggle, the Stand-Tall generation led the year 2000 clashes. They “are no longer interested in being marginal hangers-on of the Zionist project” conclude Rabinowitz and Abu-Baker. “They seek deep historic justice and meaningful incorporation into a transformed Israel”.[50]

The vast majority of Israeli-Palestinians, 77.1% in 2015 view Zionism as a colonial or settler-colonial and racist movement.[51] However, they debate whether Israel should become a bi-national state, meaning an egalitarian state for all its individual citizens regardless of his or her ethnicity or religion, the state of  two equal ethnic groups, or break the Jewish monopoly over the executive branch before changing the constitutional foundations that institutionalize Jewish superiority. On a less ambitious platform, in 2021 the United Arab List unprecedentedly joint the coalition. The party motivation was practical, to improve the quality of life of its constituents by increasing its share of the budget. Whereas previous approaches combined their inferior status and egalitarian aims with those of the West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians, the United Arab List interest is limited to improve Israeli Palestinians’ every-day life conditions. 

Israeli-Palestinians’ update  not only their views, but also their socio-economic status and socio-environmental practices. They integrate more than ever in the majority job market and residential neighborhoods.[52] Similarly, there has been a perceptible increase in the commercial, academic, and political ties between them and the West Bank population, including about 9,000 students in West Bank universities.[53] The Israelization and Palestinization of the Stand-Tall generation are expressions of the same process that on the one hand, causes tension with the Jews who expect them to silence their Palestinian identity, history and expectations at they integrate into the broader society, and, on the other hand, raises Israeli-Palestinians’ expectations of civic equality and allegiance to the ethnic Palestinian identity. As the Israeli Jewish side highlights the ethnic factor at the expense of civil equality, so the Israeli Palestinians intensify their ethnic identity alongside their indentity as citizens. 

All the Above Exploded in May 2021

In May 2021 conflict spread from Jerusalem to Israel’s mixed cities at an unprecedented scale due to the two-way of the settlers’ movement. First from Israeli sovereign territory to areas that Israel occupied in 1967 and since Oslo agreements from them to the heart of the country. Since 1997, national religious groups, some of whom are originally from West Bank settlements, settle as a collective in Jewish-Arab mixed towns such as Jaffa, Acre, and Lod in order to “Judaize” them.  Indeed, rhetoric on and practice of “Judaizing” the land are deeply rooted in Zionist ethos. However, Israel established settlements in the Galilee and the Negev next to post-1948 war remaining Arab cities or towns, not inside them. Those national religious groups are not gentrifiers i.e. individuals who come to live in Arab neighborhoods out of identification with the nature of the place and its oriental environment, but groups who want to change the identity of these places analogous to what they do in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.[54]

During the May 2021 clashes, armed Jewish groups came to mixed towns from settlements in order to defend their colleagues and “Jewish honor”. Four people, two Jews and two Arabs, were killed. Jewish properties were set on fire in Acre, Lod, and Jaffa, as well as a synagogue and a mosque, both in Lod, where for several days the government placed the city under night curfew. Jews from settlements and Israel’s sovereign area citizens, organized through cellphones and social media, sought out and attacked Israeli Palestinians.[55] In effect, this was a kind of small-scale civil war rather than mere riots. “Today”, writes Barbara Walter, “civil wars are waged primarily by different ethnic groups, by guerrilla soldiers, and militias, who often target civilians”.[56]Following these hostilities, the police and the ISS used software-monitoring devices that until then were evident only in the West Bank. The Security Service sent threatening messages to Israeli Palestinian citizens and East Jerusalem residents. “We will settle the score”, the Security Service wrote, urging them not to participate in Sheikh Jarrah, Damascus Gate and Temple Mount protests.[57] Up until May 2022, the Israeli Attorney General indicted 616 people, nearly 90% of them (545 people) Arabs and 71 Jews. As of early June 2021, the police detained 2,142 Israeli Palestinians and a few dozen Jews for investigation and deterrence purposes.[58]

Following the 2021 clashes, 2022 was the deadliest year in recent Israeli and Palestinian memory. Palestinian attackers killed 27 Israeli civilians and foreigners, and four soldiers. The vast majority of these casualties were in main Israeli cities within 1948 lines. That same year, Israeli forces killed 167 Palestinians and recorded 300 shooting attacks against soldiers and settlers in the West Bank.[59]  

Thus, the new front line of the conflict is no longer the geographical periphery of Jewish expansion (namely, the West Bank) but the metropolitan ethnic frontier: in Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah, Acre, Lod, Ramla, Haifa, Beer Shiva, or the highway along Wadi Ara next to Israeli-Palestinian cities and towns. This was expressed in the unprecedented May 18 general strike, when “streets were deserted in Arab areas across both Israel and the occupied territories” protesting their shared treatment by Israeli Jews.[60]  Israel’s economy is highly dependent on manual and services workers, in building construction alone the strike caused losses of nearly $40 million. [61]

Conclusion: Structural Changes

A variety of explanations have been suggested for the extraordinary scale of violence in May 2021. Hebrew and international media frame it as riots, an explosion of irrational mob emotions or criminal fury.[62] A few Jewish Israeli researchers follow by defining the clashes as pathological urban violence against ethnocentric socio-economic discrimination. Ariel Hendel argues that city residents’ react violently to the authority’s institutional violence, for instance in budget allocation and zoning and planning. Accordingly, mixed cities violence provoked by Israeli domestic policies. Those policies, Yael Shmaryahu-Yeshurun and Deniel Monterescu suggest, include ethnically based gentrification and the state-supported dispossession of Arab residents. Nadeem Karkabi, an Israeli-Palestinian scholar, connects May 2021 violence to the scholarly popular paradigm of settler colonialism. According to Karkabi, May’s events were not unprecedented, but another expression of Israel’s settler colonialism originated in the 1948 Nakba. [63]

On the contrary, Israeli Jews are inclined to evaluate these clashes as exceptional, an interruption in growing Jewish-Arab coexistence inside Israel and as only indirectly related to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Consequently, Women Wage Peace organized a peace chain rally for joint future, NGOs promoted web petitions stating Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies, and The Abraham Initiative, an Israeli Jewish-Arab NGO, launched a national campaign titled “Only Together”. [64]    

Against these concepts of ‘more of the same’ or accidental and detached events, this essay argues that May 2021 clashes were the result of structural changes in Israeli-Palestinian relations since the year 2000. Moreover, unlike the view that the May 2021 clashes inside Israel’s sovereign areas are just loosely connected to the conflict in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, this essay shows that they are inseparable. Related are Israel’s political instability and its liberal-democracy deficit, and the PA authoritarian regime. “One of the best predictors of whether a country will experience a civil war is whether it is moving away from democracy,” writes Walter. “War is even more likely, the experts found, if at least one faction in a country becomes a superfaction: a group whose members shares not only the same ethnic or racial identity but also the same religion, class and geographical location”. Walter adds, “The most volatile countries are the ones whose societies are divided into two dominant groups. Often, at least one of these groups is large enough to represent between 40 and 60 percent of the population. This kind of ratio is more likely to lead to armed conflict”.[65]

The new structure of the conflict was reaffirmed by April-May 2022’s events when Palestinians killed 19 and wounded over 50 Israeli Jews. Almost all the attacks were implemented within Israeli 1948 borders, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Be’er Sheva, and Bnei Brak. As a year earlier, they corresponded with Israeli police raids into the Temple Mount during the Holy month of Ramadan. These coincided with the Jewish Passover during which many Jews visited the site. Also in 2022, though on a smaller scale, Israeli Palestinians confronted police forces in Nazareth, and Um al-Fahim cities.[66] Thus, the symbiotic relations between Jews and Palestinian-Arabs within the one regime, redefines each of the two collective identities through practices of ruling the Other or resisting it. “The occupation also evidently won’t end in the foreseeable future; it is already stronger than all the forces now active in the political arena” writes David Grossman on the formation of new Israeli government. “What began and was honed with great efficiency there [= in the Occupied Territories] is now seeping into here. Anarchy’s gaping maw has bared its fangs at the most fragile democracy in the Middle East.”[67]       

The political agenda that characterized the Oslo period has fundamentally changed. If the political process resumes, the challenge the sides face is not how to move from a sheer military occupation to an agreed political border, but from the single regime to a reality of two states or confederation. Therefore, conclusions about dismantling Israeli de facto annexation and exclusive control over the Palestinians should precede discussions on the location and demarcation of the border. Unfortunately, neither the two sides nor the international community invested enough attention to meet this challenge, which includes, first, reverse engineering i.e. from the agreed end to the present rather the other way around as the Oslo agreement put forward. Second, it requires changing present Israeli security methods based on exercising full control and superiority over Palestinian land and people operated mostly from within the West Bank. Third, it necessitates extensive Palestinian capacity building, including comprehensive reconstruction of the present dysfunctional political institutions. 

Fourth, the Oslo process distinction between narrative issues that are difficult to resolve (refugees and Jerusalem) and relatively easier issues of a more technical nature (Palestinian sovereignty and the settlements) that characterized the peace process is also no longer valid. All are now inseparable narrative-related issues. Therefore, both sides must prepare for a new trade-off in talks. 

Fifth, if Hamas is to be included in the peace talks directly or indirectly, based on the ways the movement has changed its stance  from the Islamic charter of 1988 to its 2017 new political program, the negotiating goals have to change. Reaching a comprehensive end of claims that directed the final status talks since the 1990s is likely impossible to achieve with Hamas on board. It would be better, hence, to leave few claims open for future negotiations, for instance the actual return of most of the refugees to their original place in Israel. 

Finally, as the mini-civil war in Israel in May 2021 and the bloody confrontation between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza in 2007 showed, the difficulty of formulating a settlement is greater today than in the 1990s within each of the parties no less than between them. For that reason, before starting talks, each side must reach an internal consensus on the rules governing a decision: how a permanent agreement should be approved, and the fate of those who refuse to accept the majority decision. To achieve this, prior to the negotiation, each side’s leaders should manage national debates and welcome opposition groups’ participation.

Menachem Klein is professor of Political Science at Bar Ilan University. He was an advisor to the Israeli delegation in negotiations with the PLO in 2000 and was one of the leaders of the Geneva Initiative. His most recent book is Arafat and Abbas: Portraits of Leadership in a State Postponed.

[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;   YNER 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 ;


[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, ;

[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. 


[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

[27] The full text in Menachem Klein, The Jerusalem Problem, The Struggle for Permanent Status, University Press of Florida, 2003, pp. 199-203, quotation from  page 200. 

[28] B’tselem, East Jerusalem, November 2017,  in

[29] Shahar Shilo and Noga Collins Kreiner, “Tourism Heritage and Politics: Conflicts at the City of David, Jerusalem”, Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, April 2019, no. 24 (2), pp. 1-12. 

[30] Nadav Shragai, Protecting the Status of Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2016, in ; 

[31] Nir Hasson, Urshalim, Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem 1967-2017, Tel Aviv: Aliyat Hagag 2017, pp. 208-210, 238-244, in Hebrew; Shragai, Ibid; Amnon Ramon, Exploring East Jerusalem, Processes Leading Israel to Change its Policy and Cabinet Resolution 3790, Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research 2021, p. 98-99, in Hebrew.  

[32] Israel begins removal of Metal Detectors from the Temple Mount, Times of Israel 25 July 2017 in ; Nir Hasson and Josh Breiner, After Violent Clashes, Barricades Removed at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, Haaretz, 25 April, 2021 in . 

[33] Ofer Zalzberg, Palestinian Activism Reawakens in Jerusalem After Holy Esplanade Attack, International Crisis Group Commentary 19 July 2017 in

[34] Hillel Cohen, Year Zero of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1929, Brandeis University Press, 2015. 

[35] Motti Inbari, Religious Zionism and the Temple Mount Dilemma – Key Trends, Israel Studies Vo. 12 No. 2, 2007, pp. 29-47. 

[36] Ir Amim Explainer What Are the Temple Movements and Why Should We Be Worried

[37] Kobi Nachshoni, More than 12000 Jews Visit Temple Mount since September, YNET March 20, 2018 in,7340,L-5181367,00.html ; Anshel Pfeffer, “In Jerusalem’s Holiest Site These Modern Pilgrims Are Playing with Fire”, Haaretz September 14, 2021 in In Jerusalem’s holiest site, these modern pilgrims are playing with fire – Israel News – . 

[38] Isabel Kershner Jewish Prayer at Contested Holy Site in Jerusalem Sets Off Alarms, The New York Times July 19, 2021 in  ; Rina Bassist, Record Number of Jews Ascend Temple Mount on Tisha B’Av,  Al-Monitor, August 8, 2022, in

[39] Times of Israel, Israel Quietly Letting Jews Prey on Temple Mount in Break with Status Quo, 17 July 2021 in . 

[40] Aviv Tatarski, Coalition Members Advance the Temple Movement Vision for Temple Mount, Local Call January 2, 2022 in

[41] Shlomi Eldar, Who Are Temple Mounts’ the Mourabitoun? Al-Monitor September 18, 2015 in ; Nir Hasson, Israeli Ministers Join Call to Permit Jewish Prayer at Temple Mount: ‘Status Quo Discriminates Against Jews’, Haaretz, November 7, 2016 in ish-prayer-at-temple-mount-1.5458269 ; Craig Larkin and Michael Dumper, In Defense of Al Aqsa: The Islamic Movement Inside Israel and the Battle for Jerusalem, Middle East Journal, Vol. 66 No. 1, 2012, pp. 31-52. 

[42] Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Statement by PM Netanyahu Regarding the Temple Mount 24 October 2015 in ;

[43] ; Jeremy Sharon, Jewish Prayer Has Returned to the Temple Mount – Exclusive, The Jerusalem Post, December 12, 2019, in  ; Kershner, Ibid. 

[44] Pfeffer ibid; Ilan Ben Zion, “Jewish Prayers Held Discreetly at Contested Jerusalem Shrine”, AP August 25, 2021 in Jewish prayers held discreetly at contested Jerusalem shrine (

[45] ; East Jerusalem data in The Association of Civil Rights in Israel, East Jerusalem Facts and Figures 2021, in .  

[46] PCBS,

[47] For socio-economic data, concerns and self-identity of the Israeli – Palestinians see Sammy Smooha, Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel After the May 2021 Unrest: A Survey, Fathom October 2021 in Fathom – Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel After the May 2021 Unrest: A Survey by Sammy Smooha (    


[49] Adi Dovrat-Meseritz in Haarets – The Marker, October 13, 2015 in Hebrew in  

[50] Dan Rabinowitz and Khawla Abu Baker, Coffins on Our Shoulders, the Experience of the Palestinian Citizens of Israel, Berkeley: University of California 2005, p. 3

[51] Smooha, Ibid. 

[52] Smooha Ibid

[53] Shuki Sadeh, Can’t Afford Israeli Real Estate? Israeli Arabs Opt for Nablus and Jenin, Haaretz, April 28, 2022, in

[54] Daniel Monterescu and Yael Shmaryahu-Yeshurun, The Hebronization of Jaffa, Haaretz May 6, 2021 in ; Michael Dumper, Jerusalem Unbound Geography, History and the Future of the Holy City, New York: Columbia University, 2014 pp. 138-45. 

[55] ICG May 14, 2021. See also a list of events and casualties in  

[56] Barbara F. Walters, How Civil Wars Start and How to Stop Them, New York 2022, p. XVI

[57] Nir Hasson, ‘We’ll Settle the Score’: Shin Bet Admits Misusing Tracking System to Threaten Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, HaaretzFebruary 3, 2022 in    

[58] ; Suha Areff and Baker Zoubi, Inside Israel’s Largest Crackdown on Palestinian Citizens in Decades 972 Magazine, June 6, 2021 in ; Chen Maanit, Israeli Arabs Make Up 90% of Indictments Over May 2021 Riots, Haarrtez May 18, 2022 in

[59] Fabian Emanuel, 2022 Among the Deadliest Years in Recent Memory for Israelis and Palestinians, Times of Israel, December 13, 2022 in

[60] Patrick Kingsley and Rami Nazzal, In Show of Unity Palestinians Strike Across West Bank, Gaza and Israel, The New York Times, May 18, 2021 in  

[61] Lee Yaron, “General Strike Highlights  Israel’s Dependency on Palestinian Workers” Haaretz, May 19, 2021

[62] For instance Al-Monitor May 17, 2021 in ; France 24 May 14, 2021 in

[63] Theory and Criticism, Fire in Thorns Field, Special File of Works in in Hebrew. 

[64] , ,

[65] Walter p. 10, 39 respectively. 

[66] Yossi Yehoshua YNET April 21, 2022 in, Hebrew; Nir Hasson, Israeli Cops Filmed Clubbing Palestinian Journalist on Temple Mount, Haaretz, April 18, 2022 in  

[67] Grossman Ibid. 


  • Menachem Klein

    Menachem Klein is professor emeritus of Political Science at Bar Ilan University. He was an advisor to the Israeli delegation in negotiations with the PLO in 2000 and was one of the leaders of the Geneva Initiative. His most recent book is Arafat and Abbas: Portraits of Leadership in a State Postponed.

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2024: Vol. 23, No. 1

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2024: Vol. 23, No. 1