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The Palestinian and Israeli options for the intifada

At the climax of the intifada’s successive developments on the ground, the political position surrounding the events seem to need much clarification and reading. This is despite the fact that the political vagueness of the forces and parties associated with the intifada is deliberate and is not necessarily spontaneous.

The PA’s hesitation

The official position of the PA regarding the events of the intifada is characterised by hesitation and indecisiveness. We are able to see this in a number of factors, perhaps the most important of which is the refrainment from labelling the events occurring in the West Bank and Jerusalem over the past two months as an “intifada”, and instead calling it “a popular uprising, protests and clashes”.

The PA is probably not lacking in its vocabulary in a manner that keeps it from labelling the clashes between the Palestinians and Israelis as an intifada, but it is certain that adopting this term has political consequences it may not be able to handle, or may not want to handle. Therefore, it is content with using terms that greatly downplay the nature of the events. Perhaps doing so is an effort on its part to maintain a way back with the Israelis.

What is interesting about the PA’s official position is that it has not issued any condemnation of the Palestinian operations against the Israelis, while the Palestinian public and the political factions have completely adopted these attacks. Therefore, it may be difficult for the PA to have a position going against this, and therefore it may need to remain silent; it may neither adopt nor condemn this. By doing so, it would be doing the minimum for the Palestinians, out of fear of Israel accusing it of supporting or encouraging the attacks. Despite this, the PA was not spared from these Israeli accusations recently.

At the same time, the security coordination between the Palestinian security agency and its Israeli counterpart is continuing as usual, even at the height of the intifada and the war and after the death of hundreds and the injury of thousands. This is something Israel admits to and announces on a daily basis, while the PA remains silent in this regard. It seems that they are going by the rule “silence gives consent”. This seems to imply an official Palestinian approach of avoiding armed operations and keeping matters to individual stabbings and hit-and-runs.

It is true that the official Palestinian position may hold a type of contradiction in its dealings with the current intifada, but this is normal for anyone who is familiar with its past positions on the means and methods of fighting against Israel. In the first few weeks of the intifada, the PA might have been able to stop it, as it was a number of individuals who were far apart, but it did not want to stop it. It may be used as a means to pressure Israel to be more flexible in its political negotiating positions and could be an attempt to send a message to the international community that its distraction from the Palestinian issue and attention to other regional issues would mean that matters would ignite in the Palestinian territories.

After the passing of over 60 days since the beginning of the intifada, the death of over 23 Israelis, the injury of hundreds, the lack of a real change in the Israeli position regarding the settlement, and the international community’s continued turned backs from the Palestinian issue due to the sudden developments in Sinai and Paris, some individuals within the PA’s circle have talked about considering the option of stopping the intifada or gradually withdrawing from it during closed meetings. However, it seems that it is too late for this and the PA is unable to stop the intifada, despite its desire to do so.

The issue is no mystery; the PA was able to stop the intifada in its earlier days, but it did not want to at the time. Today, it seems that the PA, or at least some of its members want to stop it, but they cannot. This means that the main objective behind facilitating the outbreak of the intifada and the daily clashes in the West Bank was for this intifada to pave the way to restarting the cycle of negotiations once again. It is not a new era of “liberating” whatever is left of the occupied Palestinian territories, at least in the West Bank.

Israeli politicians and military

When talking about the Israeli position on the events of the intifada, it seems important to make a real and serious, but not delusional, difference between the two Israeli levels: the political and government level and the security and military level. Each side has a point of view and its motives to prove its point on the ground.

The Israeli political level, represented by the government and coalition parties, believes that this intifada is a series of violent acts that must be confronted with even more violence. It believes that whatever it cannot achieve with force against the Palestinians can be achieved with even more force, and this is how Moshe Yaalon, Israeli defence minister, sums up his political opinion. Therefore, only once the oppressive military method no longer works against the Palestinians will they look through their old repertoire of approaches to find another one.

There are many reasons why Israeli politicians have decided to go with tried and proven methods. Those looking closely at the list of Israelis punishments for the Palestinians carrying out any operations and their families would have no trouble recognising these approaches from the first two intifadas in 1987 and 2000. This is especially true for the house demolitions, expulsions, fines and other punishments that have not stopped the outbreak of successive intifadas. However, Israel’s arrogance keeps it from admitting the rights and demands of the occupied nation, and allows Israel’s decision-makers in Tel Aviv to continue with their belief in the logic of power over the power of logic.

As for the Israeli security and military, it is the brutal hand used against the Palestinians on the orders of the political level. It shows a better “understanding” than the other level of the reasoning, rationale, and process of what is occurring in the Palestinian intifada. A number of Israeli army and intelligence officers predicted the outbreak of the popular intifada in the West Bank months before it occurred. Although they were surprised that the knives would be prevalent, the intelligence information they received and the developments on the ground signalled their red flags that the calm prevailing in the Palestinian territories over the past few years hid a buried anger that would inevitably ignite, and it did.

The Israeli generals do not seem to be completely in agreement with their politicians in the government regarding how to deal with the Palestinian intifada, neither in how to deal with it on the ground nor with its political consequences. They have raised recommendations over the last 60 days regarding the need to look for political means more capable of putting an end to these Palestinian attacks than the military. They believe that “violence begets violence” and the death and injury of more Palestinians will definitely fuel the spirit of revenge within their families and relatives.

I have recently found out from foreign diplomats that Israel is getting ready to take a series of political and military measures to deal with the intifada, including the following: committing a complete raid on the West Bank or part of its cities, similar to “Operation Defensive Shield” in 2002, allowing it to last several months in order to manage the crisis, not resolve it. This is despite the fact that there is no need for a large Israeli military intervention of this nature due to the Israeli army’s complete violation of the West Bank, either because of the security coordination with the PA or because of the lack of strong Palestinian military cells that would require a complete or partial raid of the West Bank. However, the decision seems to be more a political show than a practical one.

Fleeing to Gaza

There is another option being considered by the Israelis, or at least which has reached the process of proposals and drafts. This option is a plan for a unilateral withdrawal from some Palestinian cities in the West Bank, similar to the late Israeli President Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 without an agreement with the PA.

This would be executed by annexing or combining the large settlement blocs, gradually getting rid of some scattered settlement areas, and expanding Area C in the West Bank. This would reduce the geographic area controlled by the PA and would dwarf its role from a pending state to a mini-state or a large municipality. This is expected to be met with widespread Palestinian rejection.

The most expensive option that the Israelis may consider if the intifada is fated to continue is the option of “fleeing forward” by managing the intifada crisis in the West Bank by instigating a military crisis in the Gaza Strip. The Israelis never need an excuse to harass the Palestinians there under the pretext of the presence of a Hamas military leadership in Gaza that direct the incidents and attacks in the West Bank. This would put the spotlight on Gaza and the attention to the West Bank would decline.

This scenario occurred in 2014 when an armed Palestinian group in Hebron kidnapped and killed three settlers. The Israeli war machine immediately attacked Gaza and waged a 51-day war. It seems that the Palestinians in Gaza are aware of this Israeli option and it will definitely be firmly confronted by the Palestinians.

Finally, determining the likelihood of any of the Palestinian and Israeli options to deal with the ongoing intifada is like asking the million dollar question. The answer is only available in the arena on the ground. This arena is capable of intensifying the pace of the Israeli military escalation against the Palestinians, who will definitely respond to this by intensifying their attacks on the Israelis. In this case, neither side can guarantee that the Palestinians’ attacks will remain limited to knives, cars and bullets. Perhaps the Palestinians’ arson is carrying surprises that will not please the Israelis. This will be revealed in the coming days and weeks.

Translated from Al Jazeera, 29 November 2015.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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