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Opinion The disaster in Jenin was sadly predictable. Where do we go from here?

Palestinians inspect a damaged area after a raid by Israeli forces in Jenin, West Bank, on Jan. 26. (Alaa Badarneh/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
5 min

Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem and former Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University. He runs the Community Media Network in Amman, Jordan.

The Jan. 26 Israeli raid on the West Bank city of Jenin that resulted in the deaths of 10 Palestinians (including an older woman) marked a violent escalation by the Israeli military. It was the deadliest army operation by the Israelis in the West Bank in at least 18 years.

The scale of the violence that resulted — with skirmishes and clashes breaking out all over the occupied territories — reflects a simple reality: The Palestinians see no future for themselves. The Israeli occupation continues unabated; the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank is deeply divided and has been systematically weakened by Israeli actions. (Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to the region this week has so far offered little hope of meaningful change.)

What Israelis and others do not seem to realize is that sheer hopelessness has encouraged Palestinians to fight the Israeli occupiers. For months, Palestinians have woken almost every day, it seems, to another Israeli killing of a fellow Palestinian, or the demolishing of a Palestinian house built on Palestinian land. More than 200 Palestinians were killed in 2022 in the West Bank — the highest toll in nearly two decades.

For Palestinians, years of neglect of the peace process have meant that an entire generation has grown up without a hope that things will change. In December, a number of young people in Gaza, which has been under blockade now for a decade and a half, drowned as they tried to find new lives in Europe. The absence of a political process — compounded by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s 2021 cancellation of a planned general election in the West Bank, and the refusal of Israeli leaders to meet with their Palestinian counterparts — has eroded an already fragile situation and forced many armed young people to take matters into their own hands.

Suddenly, new armed groups — many of them angry with the Palestinian leadership — have emerged and have been trying to conduct attacks against Israelis. Groups with names such as the Lions’ Den or the Jenin Brigade have defied conventional wisdom and begun carrying out ineffective acts of armed resistance. (The lone Palestinian who carried out the Jan. 27 attack that killed seven Israelis near a synagogue in the occupied East Jerusalem settlement of Neve Yaakov doesn’t seem to have had ties to any of these groups.)

Abbas and his government are supposed to be in charge of security in the West Bank — but they have now made it clear that they will not address Israel’s security concerns as long as no progress is happening on the political front. The long-envisioned two-state solution might have offered some prospect of change, but the Israelis have stymied that option.

There is one obvious path that might lesson the current tensions. Palestinians would like the United Nations Security Council to recognize Palestine, albeit under occupation. This way, Palestine and Israel could negotiate borders and other issues between them.

Yet the Israelis have undermined even modest Palestinian efforts at U.N. diplomacy. Meanwhile, as revenge for a Palestinian attempt to request an advisory decision from the International Court of Justice, Israel took away badly needed Palestinian tax and customs fees regularly collected under the Oslo Accords. This further alienated Abbas and further undermined his ability to deal with the new armed groups. With Abbas short on cash and popularity, his security forces were not willing to stop the armed groups from defending Palestinian honor — prompting a harsh response from the Israelis.

The Oslo Accords specified that Palestinians will take care of security in Palestinian cities throughout a defined interim period until a full-fledged settlement. That principle has now collapsed. Washington has also neglected to support efforts by Palestinians, Arabs and other parties to protect the two-state solution through a U.N. resolution to declare Palestine a state under occupation — without offering any alternative. The Biden administration’s hands-off policy has given the Israelis a green light to continue doing whatever they want in the occupied territories. Those who claim to believe in the two-state solution — including both the Americans and the Europeans — need to step up and recognize the Palestinian half of this idea.

It’s worth noting that 25 other Palestinians (including six children) were also killed in January 2023 in addition to the casualties of the raid in Jenin — making last month’s death toll in the West Bank and East Jerusalem the highest in eight years. The situation in the occupied Palestinian territories has become dehumanizing. No one bothers to know the people, to see what their dreams and hopes were before they became victims of this insanity. Every Palestinian who was killed belonged to a family who loved them and nurtured them. When will the carnage end?