By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
These days, the Palestinian Intifadah stands like an orphan, threatened to be dampened. However, any attempt to do that would be temporary, may be it can be postponed for a while, but the criteria for the conditions to escalate are there and increasing.
The Jerusalem Intifadah, which has now passed its 100th day, appears like a lonely flower pushing its way up in a storm, or like a prodigious orphan who has no support or protection, and who is confined, stifled, and neglected, locally, regionally, and internationally, left to die quietly and to be buried without a fuss.
Commentators and politicians have differed over what to call this Intifadah: is it truly an “Intifadah,” upheaval or protests… This is not only because it has been a unique phenomenon, but also because the political forces are aware of the implication of terms. Resistance forces like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) have thought to portray it as an Intifadah to escalate and expand it, while Fatah-linked forces have called it an “upheaval,” suggesting it is a fleeting wave of outrage, because Fatah wants the Intifadah to remain under a certain ceiling and confined to a narrow geographical area.
This Intifadah has shown the Palestinian people’s excellence in resistance against the occupation, this time with emphasis on individual initiative and the ability to challenge the occupation using simple means.
In the previous two Intifadahs, the Intifadah of 1987–1993 and al-Aqsa Intifadah of 2000–2005, the popular mobilization, proliferation of protests, and clashes with the occupation were key features in the early phases.
With this Intifadah, the Palestinian Authority (PA) made sure to implement measures to stifle it and confine it to limited areas. For this reason, its most important popular manifestations and resistance attacks took place in East Jerusalem, where the PA has no presence and where the confrontation with the occupation is direct, and in Hebron, where there is contact with settlers and occupation forces.
In the previous two Intifadahs, armed resistance operations came after popular events and protests. However, in this Intifadah, armed action was pursued from the outset without anyone’s permission, whether that of the factions or that of the PA security forces. Young men and women carried out resistance attacks on their own, and not as part of organized resistance cells, in which they were almost certain to be killed. In truth, the PA security forces, in collaboration with occupation forces, dismantled and destroyed most resistance cells even before they carried out armed attacks.
Interestingly as well, it was the so-called Oslo Accord generation, that is the generation born after the accords were signed, that shouldered the burden of this Intifadah. This generation grew to oppose and reject the peace accords, and have driven a new nail in the coffin of the agreement that ceded many of the rights of the Palestinian people, and yet was disregarded by the Israeli occupation itself, which used the accords as a means to subdue the Palestinians, appropriate more of their lands, and build more settlements. This generation has delivered a clear message to its political leaders, that the time has come to close the book on Oslo and resume resistance to drive out the occupation.
Hamas leader Khalid Mish‘al himself has said that the current Intifadah lacks “political fatherhood” calling on Palestinian factions to adopt it. Perhaps the Palestinian factions, including Hamas, prefer not to adopt resistance operations or activities, out of their desire for the Intifadah to take on a unified all-inclusive national form, and to maintain its popular spirit to prevent it from being isolated or fought. For this reason, we noticed that despite the fact that many of those who carried out attacks are affiliated to Fatah, Hamas, PIJ, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and others, we did not learn this until after they were killed, while no particular faction would claim responsibility for any operation.
Perhaps this situation helped make it difficult for the security forces to prevent attacks before they occurred. Attacks have thus been successful, spreading fear in the hearts of the settlers and occupation soldiers using simple individual tactics such as stabbing or ramming.
It seems from media coverage that Hamas, PIJ, and anti-Oslo forces are strongly pushing in the direction of escalating the Intifadah. This is clear from these forces’ adoption of the Intifadah and the coverage of its events in an extensive and supportive manner through their media outlets such as Al-Aqsa TV, Al-Quds TV, and Palestine Today. For its part, Fatah seems divided vis-à-vis the Intifadah. Some youth segments affiliated to Fatah have indeed taken part in the Intifadah, while the Fatah-aligned leadership of the PA is averse to supporting the armed resistance or even popular protests in the areas it controls.
It seems that the PA leadership in Ramallah is upset by Israeli conduct and US neglect, but still wants “a controlled Intifadah” or a “calculated” one, in order to be able to activate the negotiation track, but without antagonizing the US and Israel in a way that would prompt further punitive measures against the PA.
In a climate like this, it is difficult for the Intifadah to have a unified leadership that runs it, because it would otherwise be immediately arrested by the PA security forces or Israeli occupation forces. However, the Intifadah may need field leaders (who deploy everywhere and have a high level of maneuverability and mobility) from various factions, to guarantee its continuation, proliferation, and success. While we understand the difficulty of their task under a collaborationist PA and occupation crackdown, such leaders can at least benefit from a broad-based Palestinian popular incubation for the Intifadah.
After more than one hundred days, Israeli authorities were unable to suppress the Intifadah, albeit they have been able to confine it in collaboration with the PA security forces. The Intifadah has killed around 30 Israelis and injured nearly 500 others, while approx. 150 Palestinians were killed and 15 thousand were injured.
In 85 days, there were 72 shootings, 71 stabbings, 19 ramming attacks, and 41 attempted stabbings. Reports indicated around one thousand attacks had taken place by the end of December 2015, including 296 that injured or killed Israelis.
We are therefore seeing armed resistance operations inflicting casualties on the Israeli side similar to what happened during the first and second Intifadahs.
If we recall that in Jerusalem alone there have been 420 attacks carried out by 145 Palestinians, we will realize the extent of potential latent in the Intifadah, and its ability to be effective on the ground, when it is far from the dominance of the “Oslo Authority.”
The Intifadah, one of whose strongest incentives has been the defense of al-Aqsa Mosque and Islamic holy sites as they came under systematic Israeli assault and Judaization attempts, has succeeded in curbing Israeli aggression and disrupting the plans for the temporal and spatial division of al-Aqsa Mosque.
The Intifadah eventually forced US Secretary of State John Kerry to visit the region in an attempt to de-escalate the situation in coordination with the Jordanian government, the PA, and the Israeli government.
The Intifadah has caused heavy economic losses in Israel, especially because of the loss of the sense of security as 77% of Israelis admitted, the low number of people going out to the markets, and the decline in tourism.
On the other hand, the Intifadah has had broad popular support that is increasing its momentum. According to polls conducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in recent months, the Oslo generation (18–22 year olds) have the strongest support for the Intifadah. Furthermore, 68% of the Palestinian people support abandoning the Oslo Accords, while 25% support them. 67% support the use of knives, 64% support ending security coordination with Israel, 65% want President Mahmud ‘Abbas to resign, 60% support return to an armed Intifadah, and around half of respondents support the dissolution of the PA.
The resistance forces find strong support even in areas controlled by the PA in the West Bank, after more than a decade of crackdown against Hamas and PIJ there. The results of a poll conducted in December 2015 suggest that if presidential elections are held now, Isma‘il Haniyyah would beat Mahmud ‘Abbas with a margin of 10% (51% to the former and 41% to the latter). This is while noting that Haniyyah’s popularity is increasing in the West Bank, while Hamas’s popularity there is already bigger than Fatah’s.
These polls and other evidence confirm that there is a favorable climate ready for an Intifadah in the West Bank, amid huge frustration with the conduct of the PA and the failure of the peace process.
Despite the above, Mahmud ‘Abbas and the PA leadership insist on continuing security coordination with Israel, and on trying to contain and control the Intifadah. Interestingly, the Palestinian public no longer takes seriously threats by PA leaders against Israel, with two-thirds of Palestinians believing Abbas’s threats are not serious. One of the disappointing examples to Palestinians involves an announcement by Saeb Erekat, Fatah Central Committee member and Executive Committee secretary, that the PA intends to sever relations with Israel in early 2016, including security coordination (Alittihad newspaper, Abu Dhabi, 21/12/2015). However, this never happened.
Rather, what happened is that news leaked of secret meetings in Amman and Cairo between PA leaders and Israeli officials, meetings, which were described by the PFLP as a “stab in the back of the Palestinian people.” PA leaders also reached out to Palestinian leaders in the territories occupied in 1948, asking them to end or rein in Intifadah activities in their areas.
Security coordination with Israel, meanwhile, was enhanced further in December 2015. The Committee of the Families of Political Detainees in the West Bank recorded 265 violations by PA security forces against resistance members and cadres, especially those belonging to Hamas.
Israeli daily Haaretz (7/1/2016) quoting an Israeli security report which said that “the PA has markedly reduced the anti-Israel incitement on its official media outlets,” deployed uniformed security personnel at flashpoints in the West Bank to prevent confrontations with Israeli soldiers and resumed arresting Hamas military activists. In parallel, Fatah members “stopped attending demonstrations,” as “significant improvement in security coordination” was noted, which “one source called ‘exceptionally good’ in recent weeks.” Recently, Israeli authorities arrested a Hamas network comprising 25 activists.
In conclusion, this Intifadah, which carries the potential of success, growth, and proliferation, is “orphaned” these days, facing alone Israeli oppression, PA media and security crackdown, and the failure of Palestinian factions to effectively adopt it, all while being ignored in Arab, regional, and international media and politics.
Therefore, the Intifadah faces a real risk of fizzling out. However, it is important to stress that any success in suppressing the Intifadah will be temporary and would only postpone the problem. To be sure, the reasons that led to the explosion remain in place and are getting worse. Eventually, this situation will lead to an overwhelming wave that will neutralize the PA and its agencies, if not completely altering the political, administrative, and economic structure of the WB in the direction of resistance that will consign the Oslo Accords, arrangements, and symbols to history.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 9/2/2016