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Analysis

Palestinians don’t care if ‘soldiers felt threatened’

Deadly clashes with Israeli troops underline a groundswell of resistance in the West Bank, a rise in terror alerts, and flagging faith in the peace process

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Hundreds attend the funeral of three Palestinian men shot dead by Israeli troops in the Qalandiya refugee camp in the West Bank, Monday, August 26, 2013 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Hundreds attend the funeral of three Palestinian men shot dead by Israeli troops in the Qalandiya refugee camp in the West Bank, Monday, August 26, 2013 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

The clashes early Monday morning in the Qalandiya refugee camp south of Ramallah, in which three young Palestinians were killed, underline that the relative quiet in the West Bank these past few months is temporary and fragile. While the three deaths did not cause a violent outbreak of intifada-like proportions, it’s hard to ignore the fact that lately, the IDF’s incursions into PA territory, particularly refugee camps, have ended with casualties, whose funerals have been potentially extremely explosive.

As with an incident in the Jenin refugee camp six days ago, the attempted arrest of a terror suspect led to a severe conflagration involving young residents of the Qalandiya camp and IDF troops, during which the soldiers were forced to open fire because they perceived that they were in danger. The soldiers’ claims received validation from an unexpected source, when the various video clips taken by the Palestinian residents of Qalandiya showed the soldiers being pelted with anything people could get their hands on, including bricks and rocks.

The videos do not show the activities of the undercover units operating in the camp that resulted in the arrest of the suspect; rather, they show the violence that erupted between the relief forces — who arrived in Qalandiya to extract the undercover soldiers — and hundreds of youths. Based on testimony of the soldiers and residents of the camp, nearly 1,000 Palestinians threw rocks at the soldiers.

Later, there were reports citing “senior Palestinian officials” to the effect that a round of peace talks slated to take place Monday in Jericho was canceled due to the Qalandiya incident and in protest over the three deaths. These reports were a bit inaccurate, to say the least. A senior Palestinian source told The Times of Israel that no negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian teams had been scheduled for Monday in Jericho, and neither has the Palestinian leadership decided to cancel any future meetings.

The sense that one gets from this, and from the official denial by the State Department that negotiations were canceled, is that somebody on the Palestinian side wanted to create the impression that the PA called off a session of negotiations that never existed. However, both sides were extremely careful not to divulge any information as to when the next round of talks would take place, while acknowledging that negotiations would, in fact, continue.

The real issue isn’t whether or not the talks will continue. The real issue is that there has been a Palestinian reawakening “on the ground.” The number of current terror alerts from the West Bank attests to this — the figures have recently risen dramatically, after a period of relative quiet. On the one hand, the IDF and Shin Bet have stepped up their efforts to prevent terror attacks from being carried out; on the other hand, it should be noted that when operations take place in areas such as the refugee camps, there is significant risk of a larger-than-usual flare-up.

Operations that encounter difficulties in heavily populated areas almost always lead to clashes, violent attempts to retreat, injuries, etc. For the Palestinian public, explanations such as “The Israeli forces were in danger” or “The soldiers felt threatened” are completely irrelevant. For many who live in the West Bank, Monday’s killing of three Palestinians is only a part of Israel’s plan to thwart the negotiations as it continues to build up its Jewish settlements. Thus, the nearly nonexistent trust between the two sides is only eroded after such incidents, and the chance of success in the negotiations crumbles with it.

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