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Israel-Palestine Analysis: Air Raids, Mortars, and a Jerusalem Bomb....What is Next?

A review of the last two weeks, before Wednesday's explosion of a bomb near a bus in Jerusalem.... 

The construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank has quadrupled since the end of the temporary freeze last autumn, say Israeli official documents.

Five members of the Fogel family are massacred in the settlement of Itamar. Although this act is condemned by the Palestinian Authority, Israeli government and media organisations consider it a terrorist attack. West Jerusalem’s responds quickly. The Ministerial committee on settlement affairs approves the construction of 500 new homes in several West Bank settlements. The Israel Defense Forces carry out mass arrests in the village of Awarta, and questioned almost all the men.

Then, representatives of the Middle East Quartet --- the US, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations --- express their pessimism last week that that the differences between Israel and Palestine are far too wide to get negotiations back on track. This is followed by an exchange of raids by Israeli jets and mortar and rocket attacks by Palestinians. Last Saturday, 50 mortars are fired from Gaza into southern Israel. In return, two Palestinians are killed and five Hamas officers and a Palestinian boy are wounded by Israeli bombing. 

Hamas claims responsibility only for 10 of the more than 50 mortars fired. However, an Israel Defense Forces spokesman says Israel is holding Hamas "solely responsible for the attacks".

In the meantime, West Jerusalem continues its “security-first” argument at every opportunity, and amidst Arab uprisings, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prefers to target Tehran:

I would expect that the world put similar pressure on Iran. Iran is at least equal to Libya and I believe that its importance is even greater. Iran hopes to return the region to the Ninth Century. Iran’s leaders have made great efforts to stop peace and progress in our area.

Netanyahu confesses that settlements will be built, regardless of the reaction from Palestinians and the international community. And, inadvertently, he foreshadows what will happen in Jerusalem the following day:

I didn’t mean that building is part of the punishment. We will find the people who did this, and we will hold them accountable. But building is one of the ways that Zionism has found over the years to answer these terrible acts of murder. It is an appropriate response, a response that has continued since the dawn of Zionism.

Terror will not determine the map of settlement. If the murderers could, they would go to Tel Aviv, Rosh Ha’ayin, Petah Tikvah and Yehud. They have done so in the past – because they don’t want us to be here at all.

On Wednesday morning, two rockets and ten mortars fall on southern Israel. Islamic Jihad again takes responsibility. Vice Premier Silvan Shalom warns that Israel may have to consider launching a fresh military offensive against Gaza. Netanyahu says that he may convene his National Security Council and adds: ”Perhaps it will come to exchanging blows, it may continue for some time, but we are very determined to take away the terrorist organizations' ability to harm our citizens.” 

After the explosion in Jerusalem, Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives in the Gaza Strip hail the attack as a “natural response to Israeli crimes against Palestinians” while the Palestinian Authority condemns it. 

On Thursday morning, after two rockets and several mortars are fired from Gaza, Israeli jets bombed an arms depot which reportedly belongs to the military wing of Hamas. Defense Minister Ehud Barak says that Israel holds Hamas responsible for the recent rocket and mortar strikes.

The developments in these two weeks are a serious escalation of tension between Israelis and Palestinians. Both sides were weighing up the other side’s next attack, rather than its next negotiating step. At the end, as Netanyahu had foreseen, the explosion came to the heart of Israel, a natural consequence of the recent attacks.

We still do not know who is behind the bombing in Jerusalem. Indeed, we do not know who is the murderer in Itamar, or the group responsible for most of the mortars and rockets coming from Gaza. But we do know that Israeli officials will single out Hamas.

Yet, while taking that blame, Hamas may benefit from playing a subtle hand. Without having to make an official declaration of responsibility, the Gaza leadership diverts domestic attention from anti-Hamas protests towards the Israeli threat whose bombs could be dropped at any time. 

And Hamas also benefits because it is the Palestinian Authority who has lost the most in this continuing crisis. The more time that passes with no move to the negotiation table, the greater the decrease in Ramallah’s credibility. That will be reinforced by the further Israeli limitations and security checks on the way for West Bank residents. 

Israel, facing more pressure from mortars and rockets, can only accelerate its bombardment of Gaza and its clamp-down on  the West Bank. Politically, the limits of its strategy are demonstrated by the repeated diversion to Iran to offset pressure from the "West" and at home. Rather than a focus on the real issues of Gaza and Jerusalem, Netanyahu's refuge, speaking in Moscow, is that Russia and Israel face the common threat of "radical Islamist" states with nuclear weapons. 

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