Analysis: Palestinian factions warn Israel against West Bank annexation

Palestinian militant groups have said they will respond if the Israeli government goes through with a pledge to annex parts of the West Bank including the Jordan Valley.

The consequence of annexation could spell trouble on several fronts for Israel. The international community has largely rebuked Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statements of annexation and have warned of possible sanctions against Israel in the event it follows through. Furthermore, militant groups in Gaza and the West Bank could resume wide-scale operations in response to the unilateral move.

On May 20, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced “The Palestine Liberation Organization and the State of Palestine are absolved, as of today, of all the agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments and of all the obligations based on these understandings and agreements, including the security ones.”

Many Palestinian militant groups lauded Abbas’ announcement including Fatah-affiliated Fursan al Fatah. Shortly after Abbas’ announcement, the group published a statement warning Israel not to proceed with the planned annexation of the West Bank.

“We affirm the option of armed struggle is a priority for us to confront this critical development in the history of our Palestinian cause. We warn the Israeli enemy not to harm our sanctities and the capabilities of our people, and if he does that, we will follow him with ravages that make him bite the fingers of remorse,” the Fursan al Fatah statement read.

Although, militant groups loyal to Fatah such as al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Fursan al Fatah have the potential to cause significant problems in the West Bank, the main concern of Israel’s security services are likely the armed wings of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Both groups are primarily based in Gaza but have active political and military wings in the West Bank. They also have the capability to launch terror operations such as shootings, car-ramming attacks, stabbings, and a plethora of other attacks, including the use of explosives.

In a recent statement published by Hamas, the group threatened they would not stand idly if Israel carried out its pledge of annexation.

“Hamas stresses the ‘revolutionaries of our people’ will place under their feet the project of annexation and the imposition of Zionist sovereignty over the occupied West Bank, and will not allow its passage,” the statement said.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad also published a similar statement warning of “resistance in all its forms” against Israel’s plans of annexation.

“The best approach to restoring rights and liberating the land is the choice of resistance in all its forms and facing the occupation and its plans, and this approach that our movement will not deviate from, regardless of the sacrifices,” their statement read.

It is important not to compare the annexation of the West Bank to the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in the context of a possible Palestinian militant response. When the Embassy was moved in 2018, militant groups were already sowing chaos at the Gaza border with the March of Return.

Militant groups view the annexation of portions of the West Bank as a greater violation to the Palestinian cause than the transfer of the American Embassy. It is also noteworthy to mention the factions already positioned themselves in a retaliatory posture with their statements prior to annexation occurring.

The Joint Operations Room (JOR) in Gaza, which acts as a quasi-army of Palestinian factions will likely run military operations in response to annexation. On May 20, al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades released a statement alluding to this possibility:

“The military spokesman for the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades (Martyr Units of Nabil Masoud) stressed that they are with the Joint Operations Room in all of its decisions towards the violent responses that the Israeli occupation and the American administration will receive.”

Israel’s security establishment is likely aware of the threats it faces from the West Bank and Gaza if annexation occurs. In addition to the Fatah and Hamas-affiliated groups it has to monitor, the PFLP and DFLP also have a presence in the West Bank. Both have made similar statements of retaliation if annexation occurs.

Additionally, it would not be without precedence for Salafi-jihadi groups to take advantage of possible conflict to conduct operations in the West Bank or Gaza. In 2017, Fadi Ahmed al Qanbar – a militant belonging to Tawhid al Jihad, a Salafi division of Nasser Salah al Din Brigades – intentionally drove a truck into a group of IDF soldiers killing four in Jerusalem.

The response by militant groups will pose a significant obstacle for Israel as it is already confronting challenges in the northern arena against Hezbollah and its allies. Israel’s political establishment, specifically Prime Minister Netanyahu, will have to seriously consider if the outcome is worth the consequences Israel will almost certainly endure if it goes through with the annexation of parts of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley.

Joe Truzman is a senior research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian armed groups and non-state actors in the Middle East.

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