Toward a Third Intifada, or the New Normal?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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A series of deadly exchanges between Palestinians and Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem have many in the region fearing a third intifada. Though few leaders or commentators seem to have any appetite for such an uprising, the situation on the ground appears to be escalating. The knife attacks by seemingly unorganized Palestinian youths — and the Israeli military’s deadly response — has some in Israel wondering whether the recent events reflect a new reality, one which the current social structure may not be prepared to deal with.

Since the violence has started, over 30 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli police or military, with over a thousand injured in subsequent clashes, which leads Jordan Times’ Daoud Kuttab to take issue with the United States and others who have had very little to say “about what Palestinians describe as summary executions of individuals who do not pose a life-threatening danger. It is unclear why Israel has yet to begin an investigation into the large number of killings of individual Palestinians, who are killed point-blank range and under questionable circumstances. Several of these cases are recorded on video and clearly show indifference towards the injured and a mob mentality that justifies summary executions….Israel has responsibility towards the entire population of the city, both Israeli and Palestinian, and cannot shirk this responsibility by blaming Abbas and Hamas for what is happening. Using security actions, collective punishments and threatening to withdraw the residency rights of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian population will not work.”

The Palestinians have received some support from Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, who in an statement released by the Iranian Press TV “reiterated [his] support for the cause of the Palestinian people and their uprising against the Israeli regime, saying that Palestine is the ‘central battle’ in the region….’Palestinian people have no choice but resistance, they are the leaders of this battlefield, let them decide their form of resistance,’ he said, adding that they have the “full” support of Hezbollah and further called for a worldwide support against the Israeli occupation. He also hailed the Palestinian people for their courageous confrontations against the Israeli enemy in al-Quds, the Gaza Strip, and different areas across the occupied West Bank.”

Despite the bellicose language adopted at times by various regional actors and observers, most commentators have displayed little appetite for another intifada, with Abudalateef Al-Mulhim leading the charge in a recent op-ed for the Saudi daily Arab News: “The region is already reeling under a spate of violence that has claimed hundreds of thousands of innocent lives, injured even more, and not to speak of the millions who are being displaced. Another Intifada will prompt more bloodshed and casualties on both sides, leaving at the end hardly anything except some statistics in terms of deaths and wounded….As a matter of fact, we have started to hear the beautiful resistance vocabulary from people around the Arab world. But, Intifada is a serious cycle of violence which the Palestinians have gained nothing from in the past….With an Arab Spring in the hindsight, another Intifada will add salt to an open Arab wound. Violence has never solved any conflict. And it is shame that we are seeing more killings at a time when there is more need to look after our future generations. No, we don’t need another Intifada.”

The Palestinian Authority has also been keen to avoid further bloodshed, something which according to the Maan News’ Killian Redden has “revealed a contradiction in the Palestinian Authority’s claim to represent the Palestinian people. While President Mahmoud Abbas has called for a political solution through ‘peaceful means and nothing else,’ a poll last month showed that most Palestinians now view an armed intifada, or uprising, as the only route to change….Many working under the PA — the largest employer in the occupied Palestinian territory — continue to support its strategy of applying pressure on Israel internationally, while remaining non-confrontational at home, even coordinating on security….Irrespective of politics, many of an older generation have expressed weariness at the prospect of a third intifada after the last proved so ineffective….However, with more than half the Palestinian population under the age of 20, experience may not deter as many as he would think.”

On the Israeli side, the right-leaning Jerusalem Post editorial adopts a remarkably cautious tone calling for more understanding on both sides: “Understandably, Israelis are fed up and are demanding that the government use greater force to reinstate order. An overly violent reaction on our part, however, is unlikely to bring quiet. It would more likely lead to more violence on the Palestinian side, and stronger counter-reactions from the security forces. A new cycle of violence would ensue, with more victims on both sides….Though nothing justifies terrorism, we Israelis must be ready to acknowledge that Palestinians have legitimate fears and needs….At the same time, many Palestinians simply want to live their lives in peace, but are genuinely concerned about their future and the future of their children. Collective punishment is not the answer….Only through dialogue on the highest political level between the Abbas and Netanyahu governments can these fears and needs be aired and addressed. It is not too late to prevent the situation from spiraling into a third intifada.”

Not all share in that measured assessment. In an op-ed for the Yedioth Ahronoth, Eitan Haber singles out the PA president Mahmoud Abbas as the main instigator of the violence, accusing Mr. Abbas of engaging in mass deception: “Abbas, who was born in Safed, is deceiving us all. One time he supports peace. The other time he supports terror. He is the master of winking, what we call two-faced. In the morning he says one thing, and in the evening he says the opposite. He could have brought all the terrorists home and prevented them from acting against Israel. But he decided to skip all the clauses or basically to have it both ways….Abbas is the root of evil in the latest affair which has been flaring up here these days, and he is the one we can base all our accusations on. Today we are doing just that joyfully and out of a sense of disappointment, on the verge of despair.”

But according to Asher Schechter, all of these discussions are based on an old model which no longer holds true in the 21st century. In his op-ed, written for the left-leaning Israeli daily Haaretz, Schechter proposes that the current violence is a foreshadowing of things to come in a binational Israel: “Based on the volume of violent incidents and, more importantly, the identity of the people behind them, it’s easy to say: this isn’t an intifada. It’s something far worse….Intifada (the Arabic term for ‘uprising’) is by definition political. The last two Palestinian intifadas were led by political factions, and were at least somewhat organized. The present wave of violence, on the other hand, is being perpetrated by ordinary young people operating on their own. It is a new, and terrifying, type of horizontal terror: random, leaderless, and uncoordinated….Diplomacy and force won’t work this time because despite the kneejerk appellation of intifada, this is not an intifada. This is something far more sinister: A terrifying preview to a binational, one-state Israel that already exists to a large degree on the ground.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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