Special Report: US Recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli Capital Leads to Uptick in Cross-border and Opportunistic Attacks

Special Report: US Recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli Capital Leads to Uptick in Cross-border and Opportunistic Attacks

The Old City at the Western Wall and Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem.

Special Report

Executive Summary

The Dec. 6 decision by the US administration to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel prompted significant backlash from Arab populations in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The announcement unleashed a new wave of unrest amid lengthy historical tensions between Palestinians and Israelis over the status of Jerusalem. In response to the declaration, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has called for peaceful "expressions of anger." Hamas - the governing authority in the Gaza Strip - called for a new intifada (uprising) against Israel, and, if the call is heeded, it would mark only the third time that Palestinians have collectively and violently rebelled against the state of Israel since 1987. However, whether Palestinians uniformly follow Hamas' call to action, Israel and the Palestinian territories of the Gaza Strip and West Bank are likely to continue experiencing a heightened state of insecurity in the near term.  

Key Judgments

  • Unrest in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and majority-Muslim areas of East Jerusalem will likely persist for the near term and spike following Friday afternoon prayers.
  • Israeli communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip will likely experience frequent rocket attacks, or warnings of impending attacks, and Israeli forces may restrict access to certain areas for the duration of the period of heightened security.
  • Projectiles fired into Israel from Gaza will likely provoke retaliatory airstrikes.
  • The controversial decision could lead to an increase in lone-wolf style attacks on Israeli civilians or security forces.
  • Violence has not specifically targeted US nationals or businesses; calls for boycotts are unlikely to cause new disruptions.

Jerusalem's Disputed Status

Tensions surrounding the status of Jerusalem persist beyond the US administration's Dec. 6 announcement. Israel has maintained de facto sovereignty over all of Jerusalem since mid-1967, but both Palestinians and Israelis continue to assert that they will accept no other city as the capital of their respective states, and control of the city is extremely important to both groups. While previous US presidents had promised to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in accordance with 1995 congressional legislation, all administrations eventually declined to act on the issue due to concerns about a potentially violent backlash and negative effects on diplomatic relations with the Arab world.
Unrest related to this issue is likely to persist in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip for at least two weeks. Protests on Fridays will continue for even longer. Residents of Arab-majority towns in Israel may also stage protests; riots were reported in Umm al-Fahm and Wadi Ara after the announcement.

The most disruptive developments are likely to be within the Gaza Strip and the so-called Gaza envelope of Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip. Projectiles from Gaza are often fired from improvised platforms and rarely hit populated areas in Israel. However, the chance of injuries or damage from mortars or rockets cannot be ruled out. Even if they do not cause injuries, frequent warning sirens will likely disrupt business operations. Outside the borders of the Gaza Strip, Israeli security forces may block access to certain areas and conduct operations to search for and destroy tunnels coming from Gaza. Inside the Strip, any firing toward Israel will result in retaliatory airstrikes in accordance with established Israeli policy.
Despite calls by Hamas for a third intifada, intensive Israeli security measures continue to make it difficult to plan and carry out complex attacks within Israel. Gaza-based groups are likely to encourage individual attacks that require little planning such as vehicle attacks, stabbings, and shootings, which remain most likely in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Past attack patterns suggest the threat of a well-planned, fatal attack is highest on public transportation. While foreigners have not been specifically targeted in attacks, some have been injured, or killed, after being mistaken for Israelis. Foreign nationals should maintain a low profile.  

Outlook

Pre-existing threats and forms of attack in Israel and the Palestinian territories - including cross-border rocket and mortar fire emanating from Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and lone-wolf attacks such as stabbings, vehicular assaults, and shootings - are likely to increase in frequency in the near term. Within Gaza, more frequent retaliatory airstrikes and violent protests will combine to hinder operations.
Violent demonstrations against Trump's announcement are likely to continue in the coming weeks; however, widespread targeting of US nationals is unlikely even in the wake of the US presidential announcement. The possibility of a boycott of US business entities and franchises operating in the West Bank and Gaza remains. Such actions, without a strong international component, are likely to die down quickly; economic restrictions within the West Bank and Gaza have hindered past local boycott efforts.

Advice

Companies operating within the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Israel should make plans to shelter in case of mortar or rocket attacks, or airstrikes. Avoid all protests and limit exposure to the Old City of Jerusalem and East Jerusalem, where disruptions are most likely. Carefully consider risks before taking public transportation. If operating a business within the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, avoid displays of pro-Israeli or pro-US nationalism.

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