By JONATHAN SCHANZER, NEW REPUBLIC—
“We’re no longer on the verge of a third intifada—it’s already here,” one Israeli military official announced January 6. The invocation of intifada may have been intended to shock. But it also describes the new reality now emerging in Palestine.
There has been a steady drumbeat of bad news coming out of the Palestinian West Bank in recent weeks. Attacks against Israelis from the West Bank are undeniably on the rise. The spike came in November, around the same time Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Mahmoud Abbas went to the United Nations seeking an upgrade in the status of his mission, despite objections by Israel and the United States. His message was simple: The Palestinians will not cooperate with Israel while it controls territory that Palestinians claim as their own.
Coincidence or not, there were 70 recorded attacks in October, according to Israeli security services, followed by a spike to 171 in November. In December, a Palestinian motorist rammed an Israeli army jeep carrying officers and then attacked them with an axe. In another incident, two Palestinians breached an Israeli military base, assaulted a soldier, and absconded with his weapon. Earlier this month, after residents discovered undercover Israeli agents in Jenin, at least thirty people were injured in a clash. There have been other cases, reminiscent of the 1987 intifada, where Israeli personnel have been pummeled with a hail of stones.
Israeli leaders are bracing themselves. Officials from the left-leaning Meretz party warn that settlement plans forwarded by Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu are putting Israel at risk of “a third intifada.” Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also warns that an intifada is nigh. One Israeli security sources source warned Agence France Press of a “certain (Palestinian) awakening.” Another notes that an uprising may be coming, but says things will become clearer “after the Palestinians mark the Nakba and Naksa days and the Prisoners Day. That’s a critical window.”
But some Palestinian leaders are not waiting for such a window. Hamas official Ahmed Halabiyeh urged Palestinians to “ignite a third intifada to save the Aksa Mosque and Jerusalem.” Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, currently in an Israeli jail for terrorism, also called for a third intifada of “wide-scale civil resistance.” Nabil Shaath, a senior Fatah figure, warned that Palestinian boycotts and civil disobedience would escalate in 2013. On December 15, a “new brigade” in Hebron announced the beginning of a new intifada.
Palestinian security forces arrested the Hebron group some days later. But there are signs that Palestinian-Israeli security cooperation, widely praised across the international community, is under strain. The Palestinian Maan News Agency reported in December that security coordination was “in a constant state of deterioration.” The Israeli Ynet further reported that “the number of arrests made by the Palestinian Authority’s security forces against Hamas operatives in the West Bank has plummeted, and the PA no longer seems motivated to curb their activities.”
Perhaps the harshest blow was Abbas’ decision to allow for mass Hamas demonstrations in the West Bank in celebration of the terrorist movement’s 25th anniversary. Indeed, security cooperation between the Palestinians and Israel for the last half decade has been based upon mitigating the threat of Hamas (since the violent takeover Gaza in 2007). Meanwhile, The Times of Israel reports that the Israeli military fears a complete Hamas takeover of the West Bank.
Despite the daunting data, a new uprising is far from certain. For one, activists don’t appear to have galvanized the online community. The twitter handle @ThirdIntifada has a modest 15,835 followers by last count and the “Third Intifada” Facebook site has a little more than 8,000 “likes.” Judging from social media, the threat of a mass uprising isn’t exactly acute.
It’s also worth noting that “intifada” means different things to different Palestinians. Some believe it means a full-fledged war, as it did from 2000 to 2005, when suicide bombings dominated the headlines. Others believe it means rock-throwing and civil disobedience, as was the case (with violent exceptions) in the 1987 to 1990 disturbances.
Still, the next chapter of Palestinian-Israeli conflict could be marked by an entirely new means of confrontation. A small group of Palestinians recently took it upon themselves to create an “outpost” known as Bab Al-Shams in the disputed E1 area. The Israeli military ejected the activists while Al-Jazeera and other television stations broadcast the images, which were met with great consternation around the Arab world. This exercise in civil disobedience garnered a great deal of attention, and Palestinian leaders roundly applauded the measure. Time will tell whether there will be encores.