As Palestinian riots fizzle, fears of third intifada die down

Palestinians were marching, rocks were flying, tires were burning and prisoners were hunger-striking.

Prompted by accusations that Israel was responsible for the death of a Palestinian detainee, West Bank Palestinians erupted last month in a wave of riots on a scale not seen since October 2000, when Palestinian civil unrest heralded the start of the bloody second intifada that would last five years.

There are some strong parallels among February 2013, October 2000 and December 1987, when the first intifada began: widespread civil unrest in West Bank Palestinian villages coupled with the occasional violent attack.


Palestinian protesters throw stones outside Israel’s Ofer military prison in the West Bank on Feb. 25. photo/jta-flash90-issam rimawi

But don’t expect this latest wave of unrest to erupt into a third intifada.


While many Palestinians are deeply frustrated by the lack of progress toward statehood, for now the fragile Palestinian leadership doesn’t seem to want another uprising, and Israel appears to be in a strong enough position to prevent one from breaking out.

“The chance of seeing a sharp rise in terrorism is very low,” said an Israel Defense Forces official who insisted on anonymity. “There are a lot of things in place today that weren’t in place in 2000. The likelihood that we’re going to see buses blow up left and right are much smaller. We have free range to conduct counterterrorism operations.”

Israel is much better prepared to deal with violence than it was in 1987 and 2000 because of the security fence that now surrounds much of the West Bank, security coordination with the Palestinians and enhanced intelligence efforts, the IDF official said.

This latest unrest intensified with the Feb. 23 death of Arafat Jadarat, 30, a Palestinian prisoner held by the IDF. Palestinians claim Jadarat succumbed to  Israeli torture; Israel maintains he died of a heart attack.

Clashes among Palestinians, settlers and Israeli soldiers quickly spread, but died down in recent days. “Relative security stability” now prevails across the West Bank, according to the IDF official.

The biggest obstacle to an intifada is Palestinian popular will, said Gershon Baskin, co-chairman of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information. Palestinians and their leaders are not ready to face arrests and what Baskin termed “harassment” on a mass scale.

“The leadership is making a great deal of effort to control the situation on the ground,” he said. “There is the expression of a great deal of frustration on the Palestinian side, but it’s not at the point of boiling over.”

Mustafa Barghouti, a one-time Palestinian presidential candidate, says that while it won’t rise to the level of an intifada, a “popular uprising” will take shape in the West Bank.

“It will be nonviolent, not military, and it could expand to a much larger level,” he said. “The Israeli public should see it as very positive because we are trying to save the very last hope of a two-state solution.”

Barghouti added, “Now people realize the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance.”

Analysts do not expect President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel to spark any uprising, though long-term U.S. policy toward Israel remains a source of Palestinian resentment.

More concerning for Israel, according to Hillel Frisch, a professor at Bar-Ilan University and expert on Palestinian politics, is preventing a declining Palestinian economy from leading to an intifada. He added, though, that in Israel, worry about the next intifada is a “perennial concern.”

“I have heard ever since 2006 that the third intifada will break out,” Frisch said. “Every so often this question arises.”

Ben Sales
Ben Sales

Ben Sales is news editor of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.