The best-case scenario for Israel-Palestine in 2020 is some stabilization of the Israel-Gaza relationship. Indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel continue regarding a series of measures designed to improve Gaza’s besieged economy. In exchange Gaza’s de facto Hamas rulers will be expected to curb demonstrations along Gaza’s border with Israel and prevent rocket and mortar attacks into Israel.
However, the building blocks for such an agreement have been on the table for years, with little progress. Israeli concessions to Hamas remain politically difficult, particularly as Hamas continues to hold the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in 2014. For its part, Hamas has had difficulty preventing projectile attacks into Israel, despite a strong desire to achieve a durable ceasefire. In the absence of a ceasefire agreement that meaningfully improves conditions in Gaza, a wider armed conflict remains a possibility.
If an Israel-Gaza agreement does happen in 2020, it will further reduce Hamas’s incentive to engage constructively with President Mahmoud Abbas, while increasing accusations from Fatah that Hamas seeks a Palestinian state in Gaza, separate from the West Bank. Holding long overdue elections for the Palestinian presidency and the legislative arm of the Palestinian Authority (PA) could be a step toward redressing the Fatah-Hamas conflict. President Abbas has called for elections and Hamas has agreed. However, the president has not issued a formal decree setting a date. Abbas insists he is waiting on Israel to respond to his request to allow Palestinians to vote in occupied East Jerusalem, as they did in past PA elections. The political climate makes it unlikely that Israel will again allow Palestinian voting in the east of the city. Abbas is likely using Israeli prevarication on Jerusalem as a pretext for avoiding an election he fears Fatah could lose. Thus, 2020 is unlikely to see Palestinian elections.
Finally, in theory the Trump administration continues work on its peace plan for the conflict. The administration released a fanciful economic vision for Israel and Palestine in the summer of 2019 that was silent regarding the vast power imbalance between the two sides. Since then the administration has reversed decades of policy and asserted that Israeli settlements are not “inconsistent with international law.” This makes it extremely unlikely that the Trump administration would exert the massive political and economic pressure on Israel that would be necessary to induce change in its policies toward the Palestinians.
Nathan Stock is a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute.
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