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How West Bank flare-ups could impact Israeli election

Confronted with a wave of terror attacks, Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz adopt a more hawkish approach to security in the West Bank.
Members of Israeli security forces and emergency services inspect the site of a reported attack on an Israeli bus.

An 84-year-old woman named Rachel Shlomit Ovadya was bludgeoned to death yesterday in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon in what is suspected to be a terrorist attack. Prime Minister Yair Lapid was updated on the incident during his meeting in New York with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, tweeting that “terrorism is the embodiment of pure evil. This is a shocking attack by a despicable and cowardly terrorist who murdered an elderly woman who could not fight him.” Lapid pledged to handle terrorism with an iron fist and track down all its perpetrators. 

Also yesterday, while touring the Israel Defense Forces' West Bank division base, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said, “In the last few months we have arrested and hit more than a thousand terrorists.” He then added that in his talks with the brigade commanders in the sector, he stressed to them that they have full freedom of activity to prevent terrorist attacks but also the need to act responsibly.

Why does it matter? The recent security flare-ups in the West Bank have yet to be classified as a major wave of terrorism. Nevertheless, Israel’s security forces are keeping a worried watch on the changes of mood in the region and a concurrent weakening of the Palestinian Authority. The IDF and the Shin Bet have increased their activities in the West Bank significantly, causing friction with local terrorist groups and contributing, so to say, to the escalation in tensions. 

But apart from the security aspect, this recent wave of violence is also likely to impact the internal Israeli political scene. Lapid and Gantz must show they are controlling developments and protecting the lives of Israeli citizens. 

Elections on the mind: Israel is in the midst of an election campaign, a transition government is in power, and its two leaders, Lapid and Gantz, are political rivals. Then there is opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also a candidate in the election. He has been attacking the government for what he sees as “helplessness” in the current situation and accuses it of being lax in security affairs. “A hard-handed approach is the only way to defeat terrorism,” said Netanyahu following the elderly woman’s murder.

State of things: Ever since the founding of the current government in June 2021, Defense Minister Gantz has adopted a conciliatory attitude toward Palestinian President Mansour Abbas. He spoke with him on the phone on multiple occasions and hosted him in his home in Rosh HaAyin, for which he was criticized by the right. Gantz has been leading the government’s policy for bettering the lives of Palestinians, both in the West Bank and in Gaza. 

It is now argued by the Israeli right that Gantz’s approach has collapsed inward since Abbas can no longer control what is happening in the West Bank. In other words, Abbas is irrelevant. That is the reason that Gantz has recently adopted a more hawkish approach to dealing with the Palestinians. 

Gantz’s remarks yesterday placed at least some of the responsibility for the recent attacks on the Palestinian Authority, insinuating that it is weak. In parallel, he signed orders to confiscate 10 million shekels of Palestinian tax revenues to compensate for the Palestinian funding of terrorist attacks. 

Similarly, Lapid has also adopted a more hawkish approach. After security forces thwarted the terrorist attack on Sept. 8, Lapid told his Cabinet: “The State of Israel will take harsh and uncompromising steps against anyone who tries to hurt us. I congratulate the security forces for capturing the terrorist in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. In doing so, they prevented a major attack.” Then he added, “We must continue to use all the tools at our disposal to restore stability and security to the region.” 

What comes next?

  • While Israelis are less attentive to incidents in the West Bank, they are starting to wake up and demand answers from their leaders. This is especially true once the terrorist attacks start making their way past the Green Line (inside Israel), as they have recently.
  • Netanyahu and the other leaders of the right, particularly ultra-nationalists Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, will ride this wave as far as they can. If this wave of attacks continues and escalates, or even if, God forbid, there is a major terrorist attack with multiple casualties within the Green Line, it could impact the election by bolstering support for Netanyahu and the right.
  • As for the center-left bloc, which is opposed to Netanyahu, Gantz, who is considered “Mr. Security,” could benefit from it politically too and increase his popularity at the expense of Lapid.

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