Why does the non-intifada continue to rage?

Israeli and Palestinian experts disagree over the reasons for the uptick in violence but share a time-hardened pessimism

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

IDF soldiers on patrol near where a police officer was stabbed Monday (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/ lash90)
IDF soldiers on patrol near where a police officer was stabbed Monday (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/ lash90)

A creeping intifada, a trickle of terror, attacks due to the incendiary atmosphere: these are some of the names given to the uptick in terror on Israel’s borders and in its cities. Not that it matters. What’s important, after the third attack in as many days and a pronounced three-month-long rise in terror, is that Palestinians are taking to the sword. Some had the forethought to lay a sniper ambush near the broken portions of the border fence in Gaza or to build a bomb, leave it on a bus and make a getaway; others simply decided, without much planning, to stab a sleeping soldier on the bus or murder a retired colonel outside his isolated home.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and senior IDF officers have repeatedly stated that the spate of attacks does not translate into a popular uprising. In October, Ya’alon said the attacks were a “statistical anomaly” that bears “no sign of a popular uprising or so-called third intifada.”

What, then, is behind them and where are they leading?

Maj. Gen. (res) Gadi Shamni, a former head of the IDF’s Central Command, told Army Radio that Hamas — bitterly at odds with the regime in Egypt and uninterested in an escalation with Israel in Gaza at this time — was putting “tremendous effort” into orchestrating terror attacks against Israel from the West Bank.

Shamni, left, with former head of the Council of Settlements, Dani Dayan, and then-Chief of the General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/ Flash 90)
Shamni, left, with former head of the Council of Settlements, Dani Dayan, and then-Chief of the General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/ Flash 90)

The organization’s goal, he said, was “to put a spoke in the wheels” of the peace process.

But Brig. Gen. (ret) Shalom Harari, a veteran of the IDF military intelligence and a longtime adviser on Palestinian affairs to the Defense Ministry, said there was a “constant push” to carry out attacks. “I don’t link it to the negotiations,” he said. “When they can — they act.”

Harari, a fellow at International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, said that the PA’s grip on the population is “not what it once was” and that “they are aware that they have a problem.” This has forced Israeli troops to enter troublesome areas inside the alleyways of Jenin and other West Bank cities, which has led to greater friction, more Palestinian deaths and more tension, he added.

Harari, who spoke to The Times of Israel shortly before a Palestinian sniper killed Salah Abu Latif, an Israeli laborer who was working on the security fence Tuesday, said that Hamas’s motivation in trying to drum up terror was “more about screwing Abu Mazen [PA President Mahmoud Abbas]” than anything else.

Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human rights worker and an insightful analyst of Arab affairs, wholeheartedly agreed. He said he had “no shadow of a doubt” that Hamas’s primary goal in calling for an intifada from the West Bank was, first, to weaken the Palestinian Authority and only second to hinder the negotiations.

He said the attacks were, from the perspective of many Palestinians, a “Palestinian price tag on the Jewish price tag attacks” and added that while there was no hand orchestrating the rise in violence there was also “not enough being done by the PA to halt” the attacks.

Dissatisfaction with the PA’s governance and the existence of those “in our midst who want to see 10 attacks per day in Israel,” along with a perceived stagnation in the peace process, he said, were fueling the rise in terror.

Moreover, Eid said, there is an understanding among large swaths of Palestinian society that compromises are pried from Israel only with force. “It took six years of intifada for Israel to recognize the PLO,” he said.

Arie “Leybo” Livne, the commander of the southern sector for the Shin Bet during the Second Intifada and also a fellow at the ICT, focused on the widespread Palestinian frustration with the peace process. In his reading, Israel and the PA have “long ago passed the point of no return” on a peace agreement. “I don’t see any chance of a deal,” he said. “It’s just the illusion of a process” – and the falsity, he said, is not lost on the Palestinian public.

Israel’s public policy of settlement construction, he added, was akin to “pissing in the pool from the diving board.”

Eid said, “I very much hope that this [violence] isn’t leading anywhere.” But without progress in the negotiations, he warned, “the suffering will not stop.”

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