The Irish Times view on Israel and the West Bank: a worrying start to 2023

A dramatic escalation over the weekend in tit-for-tat violence in Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank has marked a dangerous beginning to 2023 which has seen the killings of at least 30 Palestinians, including five under 18, and seven Israelis. It marks one of the region’s most violent phases, outside full-scale war, in years.

The violence exploded after a raid on Thursday by Israeli troops in the West Bank town of Jenin which left seven Palestinians dead, the deadliest military incursion in the West Bank in half a decade. In response, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired a barrage of rockets into Israel, triggering a series of retaliatory Israeli airstrikes.

Friday then saw the deadliest attack on Israelis in 15 years, a shooting outside a synagogue in East Jerusalem that left seven dead and three wounded before the gunman was killed by police. A Palestinian man was on Saturday fatally shot outside an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, and Israeli settlers carried out nearly 150 attacks on Palestinians and their properties across the region. In East Jerusalem, Palestinian youths fought pitched battles with police.

In response, the new Israeli government, a coalition of settler activists and ultra-right nationalist and religious parties led by Binyamin Netanyahu, has pledged to strengthen security guarantees to the illegal settlements, to expedite gun licences for Israeli citizens, to reinforce military and police units to carry out more arrests of Palestinians, and to conduct more operations aimed at seizing Palestinians’ weapons. The moves, critics and human rights group warn, are likely to further exacerbate tensions.


On the Palestinian side the militant group Hamas praised the synagogue killer although he was not apparently one of its members, while the Palestinian Authority promised to end security co-operation with Netanyahu’s government. The latter has also made clear that reconciliation or peace are not a priority, let alone negotiating the two-state solution which is internationally seen as the only viable way forward.

The coalition, a month in office, appears set to pour petrol on the fire with its pledges to annex the West Bank, ease the Israeli Army’s rules of engagement, weaken the judiciary, and entrench Israeli control over a sacred site in Jerusalem. Its statement of guiding principles refers to the Jewish people’s “exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the Land of Israel,” a biblical term that encompasses both Israel and the occupied West Bank, and pledges to “develop settlements in all parts of the Land of Israel.”

A long-planned visit today by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Jerusalem and Ramallah on Monday should be an opportunity to make clear international concerns. But his arrival at this time of heightened volatility does not bode well.