Third intifada? The Palestinian violence is Israel’s new normal


Israelis have become accustomed to dismal news in the past few weeks – mornings and evenings punctuated by stabbings, car attacks and rock throwing.

The cycle of random violence has left dozens of Israelis and Palestinians dead, and many fearing the worst: The start of a third intifada, or armed Palestinian uprising, that could claim hundreds more lives.

But since the second intifada started in 2000, fears of a repeat have proved unfounded. Conditions in Israel and the Palestinian territories have changed since that time, and short bursts of low-level violence are the new normal.

“It’s a matter of days until this stops,” said Nitzan Nuriel, the former head of the prime minister’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau. “This has no goal. It will be forgotten. The reality is we have waves of terror. It doesn’t matter what the reason is.”

Israelis have been bracing for a third intifada ever since the second one ebbed to a close in 2005. Waves of terror have risen and fallen, along with concerns that the region is on the verge of another conflagration.

Most recently, a string of attacks in late 2014, including the murder of four rabbis in a synagogue, sparked talk of a third intifada. But those clashes died out after several weeks. Another rash of attacks came and went two years ago.

Now, after two weeks of near-daily attacks, some Israelis and Palestinians are already calling this string the third intifada. But during the past 15 years, Israel has created safeguards to keep Palestinian violence in check.

“Every night we have actions to detain people who are involved in terrorist activities,” Israel Defense Forces spokesman Peter Lerner told JTA. “We have operational access at any given time to any place.”

After hitting a peak in 2002, attacks on Israelis waned the following year when Israel completed the first part of a security barrier near its pre-1967 border with the West Bank. Part fence and wall, the barrier has proved controversial. Its route cuts into the West Bank at points in what critics call an Israeli land grab. And the restrictions on Palestinian movement imposed by the barrier, as well as the fence around Gaza, have led some to call Gaza an open-air prison.

The separation barrier winding through the West Bank. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Israel's security barrier winding through the West Bank has proven controversial since it first started being built in the early 2000s. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90/JTA

Still, the barrier coincided with a sharp decrease in Israeli deaths from terrorism. Terrorists have infiltrated it repeatedly, but successful Palestinian terror attacks dropped 90 percent between 2002 and 2006. Militants attacking Israel from Gaza now shoot missiles over the barrier or dig tunnels under it.

The current wave of violence has mostly involved attacks in the shadow of the security barrier – either in the West Bank or in Jerusalem. Both are Palestinian population centers with easy access either to Jewish communities. A handful of stabbings have taken place in central Israel, perpetrated by Palestinians who were able to sneak across the barrier.

The unorganized, “lone wolf” attacks occurring across Israel have created an atmosphere of insecurity and tension, even as the attacks have been relatively small in scale. There’s a feeling, some say, that an attack could happen anywhere at any time.

“No one is in charge to say tomorrow we stop the attacks,” said Shimon Grossman, a medic with the ZAKA paramedical organization who is responding to the ongoing violence just as she did in the second intifada. “Whoever wants to be a shaheed [‘martyr’] takes a knife and stabs people.

“It’s very scary for people because they don’t know when the end will be, what will stop it. Last time people knew to stay away from buses. Now you don’t know who to be afraid of.”

Another significant obstacle to a third intifada has been the West Bank Palestinians themselves, who have worked with Israel for eight years to thwart terror attacks. In 2007, Hamas seized full control of the Gaza Strip, violently ousting the moderate Fatah party, which controls the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority.

Since that takeover, the P.A. and Israel have viewed Hamas as a shared enemy and coordinated on security operations aimed at discovering and arresting Hamas terror cells.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas of inciting the ongoing violence. But Abbas has maintained security coordination with Israel through the clashes and has a history of opposing violence. Nuriel said that while Abbas is not to blame for the attacks, he stands to benefit from them.

“He has an interest for the conflict to get headlines,” Nuriel said. “He wants to show there’s chaos here. He wants to show it’s in places that Israel controls.”

But a majority of Palestinians are fed up with Abbas and oppose his stance on nonviolence. Rather, Palestinian society as a whole appears to support violence against Israelis. A poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey research last week found that 57 percent of Palestinians support a return to an armed intifada, an increase of 8 percent from earlier this year. Half believe the P.A. has a mandate to stop security coordination with Israel, and two-thirds want Abbas to resign.

“This is an explosion of a whole generation in the face of the occupation,” said Shawan Jabareen, director of Al-Haq, a Palestinian civil rights group. “No one can say when it will stop unless people get hope that things will change. But if they see there’s no hope, I don’t know which way it will take.”

Even if the attacks continue, according to former Israeli National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror, Israel will retain the upper hand. The best course of action, he wrote in a position paper this week, is to maintain current security operations and be cautious in using force.

“Now we no longer have to prove anything,” Amidror wrote in the paper for the Begin Sadat Center for Security Studies. “Israel is a strong, sovereign state, and as such it must use its force prudently, only when its results have proven benefits and only as a last resort.”

Israeli president calls on P.A. to act against terrorism surge


Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin at a Ramadan break-fast meal with Arab leaders called on the Palestinian Authority to act against a recent surge in terrorism.

Addressing the uptick in attacks by Palestinians against Jewish targets since the start of the holy month of Ramadan, Rivlin said at his Jerusalem residence on Sunday night, “We are working extensively to ensure a festive atmosphere in the Palestinian areas, but the Palestinian Authority has a responsibility to act decisively against terrorists seeking to sabotage our daily lives here.”

Rivlin emphasized building trust between the Arab and Jewish communities in Israel.

“The citizenship of the Arab residents of the State of Israel is not a goodwill gesture,” he told the Arabic media before the Iftar meal. “It is the citizenship of individuals and of a society which is part and parcel of this land; this land is their homeland, the State of Israel is their home. I am happy that Arab community leaders and citizens see this house as an address to raise their concerns, and I hope that this cooperation will go from strength to strength.”

Sunday night also marked the end of a Jewish fast day, the 17th of Tammuz, marking the breach of the walls of Jerusalem by the Romans in 69 C.E. following a long siege.

“Today it so happened that we all fasted together, Jews and Arabs,” Rivlin said. “For all of us, the purpose of this fast is not to discipline the body, but to cultivate in our minds and spirits compassion and kindness, and opening our hearts to the one another.”

Rivlin decried recent animosity between the Jewish and Arab communities and called for the leadership on both sides to build trust and cooperation.

“These have not been easy weeks for anyone who loves this country; for those who believe we have the ability and the duty — as Arabs and Jews — to live together. At this time, in the face of those on both sides who seek to fan the flames, we cannot and must not remain silent,” he said.

Memo linking P.A. to attack should be returned, D.C. judge rules


A memo linking the Palestinian Authority to a 2002 suicide attack that was accidentally handed over to attorneys for the families of two American victims should be returned, a U.S. judge ruled.

Richard Leon of Washington District Court earlier this month ordered the memo returned or destroyed to the P.A. after its lawyers claimed it was “privileged and protected” information, the New York Post reported.

The memo ties the bomber to a captain in the P.A. security forces who planned the February 2002 terror attack at a pizzeria in Karnei Shomron that killed three teens, including the two Americans.

Attorneys for the victims' families have asked the judge to stay his order during their appeal. The attorneys, David Schoen and Robert Tolchin, said that if the document is returned or destroyed, “this critically important evidence of murder will likely be lost forever.”

The memo has not been made public and its contents are sealed, according to the Post.

The P.A. said it handed over the memo in the same envelope as a Sept. 12 deposition and that it “retains the protection of the privilege despite the inadvertent disclosure.”

Israel to withhold Palestinian Authority funds until March


Israel will withhold tax revenues from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's administration until March at least in response to his statehood campaign at the United Nations, Israel's foreign minister said.

Under interim peace deals, Israel collects some $100 million a month in duties on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank — money that is badly needed to pay public sector salaries.

“The Palestinians can forget about getting even one cent in the coming four months, and in four months' time we will decide how to proceed,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a speech on Tuesday night.

Israel says Abbas violated previous peace accords by sidestepping stalled negotiations and securing a Palestinian status upgrade in the United Nations last month.

Israel has already withheld the December transfer, saying the money would be used to start paying off $200 million the Palestinians owe the Israel Electric Corporation.

Lieberman, a hardliner in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's conservative coalition government, said the Palestinians also had another debt with the Israeli water authority that would have to be paid off.

“Israel is not prepared to accept unilateral steps by the Palestinian side, and anyone who thinks they will achieve concessions and gains this way is wrong,” he said.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian official, said earlier this month that Israel was guilty of “piracy and theft” by refusing to hand over the funds.

The European Union has also criticized Israel for not handing over the cash. “Contractual obligations … regarding full, timely, predictable and transparent transfer of tax and custom revenues have to be respected,” it said on Monday.

Israel has previously frozen payments to the PA during times of heightened security and diplomatic tensions, provoking strong international criticism, such as when the U.N. cultural body UNESCO granted the Palestinians full membership a year ago.

Abbas's U.N. victory was a diplomatic setback for the United States and Israel, which were joined by only seven other countries in voting against upgrading the Palestinians' observer status to “non-member state”, like the Vatican, from “entity”.

Hours after the U.N. vote, Israel said it would authorize 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and expedite planning work for thousands more in a geographically sensitive area close to Jerusalem. Critics say this plan would kill off Palestinian hopes of a viable state.

Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Crispian Balmer

Congressional initiatives target P.A.


A number of initiatives are circulating in Congress targeting the Palestinians in the wake of their diplomatic tensions with Israel.

Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) this week circulated through the Republican Study Committee, the GOP’s influential conservative caucus, a proposal to introduce a Palestinian Accountability Act, legislation that would condition support for the Palestinian Authority on its willingness to negotiate, its efforts to combat terrorism and incitement, and its recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. It cites as bad faith the P.A.‘s recent efforts to obtain recognition of statehood through the United Nations.

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) this week sought signatories for a letter to Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, appealing to him to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority in the wake of its intention to establish a unity government with Hamas, the terrorist groups controlling the Gaza Strip.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) published a report following his visit to Israel earlier this month with Chicago’s Jewish federation that made many similar calls, including cutting off aid to any P.A.-Hamas unity government and in case the Palestinians seek U.N. recognition.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in a rare public release, accused the P.A. of engaging in “diplomatic warfare” against Israel through its U.N. efforts and its setting of preconditions for a return to talks.

These latest efforts join a number of congressional initiatives that would reject any pressure on Israel to return to the 1967 borders.

President Obama in a May 19 policy speech said Israeli-Palestinian negotiations should be renewed on the basis of the 1967 borders, but with mutually agreed land swaps and extensive security guarantees for Israel.

Analysis: New Hamas Gaza rocket attacks pose dilemma for Israel


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The renewal of intense Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilian areas has put Israelis in a somber mood during the usually festive week of Chanukah.

The new fighting erupted Friday — the day a six-month truce between Hamas and Israel expired and the Islamist group declared it would not renew.

Since then, Hamas has allowed Islamic Jihad militants to bombard Israelis in the towns near the Gaza Strip, including Sderot. The barrages slowed down only on Monday, when Hamas announced that Palestinian factions in the strip were observing a 24-hour lull requested by Egyptian mediators.

Israeli officials are calling for sharp retaliation. The Israeli Cabinet already has voted to hit back, leaving the timing and scope of the nation’s response to Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

The rocket attacks are a reminder of the Israeli government’s inability to resolve the Gaza problem. Coming in the midst of an election campaign, the deterioration of the situation around Gaza has prompted many Israelis to ask why the government has not yet struck back in a serious way.

Cabinet ministers and leading members of the coalition have jumped into the fray, questioning Barak’s apparent restraint.

Barak, however, refuses to be hurried. He dismisses calls for immediate action as political grandstanding, saying that for the sake of its standing in the region, Israel must retaliate the right way. Barak insists he does not want to repeat the mistakes of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war.

Complicating matters, Hamas’ rockets have increased their range from six months ago, before the cease-fire.

Yuval Diskin, chief of the Shin Bet security agency, told the Cabinet on Sunday that Hamas now could target Israeli population centers within a radius of 25 miles from the Gaza Strip. That includes Beersheba, Ashdod, Kiryat Gat and a host of smaller cities and towns.

As the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot put it in a screaming headline, “One of every eight Israelis is in range of the rockets.”

Hamas used the truce to smuggle in tons of new weaponry, including upgraded Katyusha rocket launchers with a 25-mile range. Israeli military planners estimate that in the event of a showdown in Gaza, Hamas would be able to fire hundreds of rockets a day at Israeli civilian centers — much the same way Hezbollah did in 2006.

Hamas also has built Hezbollah-style fortifications and brought anti-tank weapons into the strip.

“For Israel, invading Gaza will not be a walk in the park,” warned Moussa Abu Marzuk, deputy head of Hamas’ Damascus-based leadership.

Israel has several military options in Gaza, all of them problematic. The Jewish state could strike at rocket-launching crews and military installations from the air, but that alone would not be enough to stop the rocket fire.

Israel’s army could target Hamas leaders, but most them already have gone underground. The army also could fire artillery shells at the sources of rocket fire, but since the Palestinian militiamen operate mainly from built-up civilian areas, this likely would cause many civilian casualties and invite international condemnation.

Israel could undertake limited ground operations against rocket launchers and capture the territory from where the rockets are being fired, but this would put Israeli troops at risk in the heart of Palestinian territory.

A large-scale ground operation likely would be more effective, but it would require an exit strategy Israel does not have — or leave Israel responsible for Gaza and the needs of its estimated 1.5 million Palestinians.

For its part, Hamas has much to lose from an all-out war. Its goal in the current crisis is to get Israel to ease its siege on Gaza and lessen the pressure on Hamas militants in the West Bank. But if Israel invades and overruns Gaza, it could lose everything — including its hold on power in Gaza.

On Monday, Hamas showed signs of stepping back from the brink. It ordered a 24-hour suspension of rocket fire to give Egyptian mediators another chance to negotiate a new cease-fire on terms more favorable to Hamas.

Israel, however, shows no sign of backing down.

The standoff with Hamas goes far beyond Gaza, and the outcome will reverberate across the region. It is part of the regional power struggle between Iran and its proxies and between fundamentalists and the moderate pro-Western camp, including countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

While Arab moderates in public have expressed alarm at the escalation, in private some reportedly have hinted to Israel that they would not be sorry to see Hamas and its leaders hit hard. The Egyptians even have hinted publicly that Iran has been fanning the flames from behind the scenes.

Indeed, the Gaza standoff is part of the showdown between Israel and Iran. A powerful Israeli response will send a strong message to Tehran and its Hezbollah proxy in Lebanon. A failed action or a perceived retreat could encourage the Iran to step up its challenges of Israel.

Barak is keenly aware of what’s at stake and is insisting on detailed planning and thinking through all the strategic implications. This way, if Israel does launch a major operation, it will achieve an overwhelming victory and have a clear strategy for the political aftermath.

But there is still no agreement among Israel’s three major prime ministerial candidates on what to do about Hamas in the long term. Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and the Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu say the Hamas government should be toppled. Barak advocates the more modest goal of restoring quiet after dealing a heavy blow to the organization’s military wing.

The way the goal is defined will determine the nature of the military operation and set the tone for the political aftermath.

It’s time for words to lead the peace process


It is now clear that no peace agreement, not even on principles, will be signed by the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating team before some time in 2009, after the
new American administration takes charge, the Israeli election runs its course and the fate of Mahmoud Abbas’ presidency is decided.

Analysts who have been urging the two sides to expedite matters for all the many reasons that made the window of opportunities narrower by the day are now urging them to “keep the momentum going,” lest the window, which I doubt ever existed, becomes too narrow to re-open.

But how do you keep momentum going when the two sides are locked in a fundamentally immobile stalemate?

Israel is physically unable to accommodate a sovereign neighbor a rocket range away from its vital airports, one whose youngsters openly vow to destroy it. And Palestinians, on their part, cannot change their youngsters’ vows after having nourished them for decades, especially under occupation, while Iran is promising to turn those vows into reality.

Yet there is a way. If we cannot move on the ground, we should move above it — in the metaphysical sphere of words, metaphors and paradigms — to create a movement that not only would maintain the perception of “keeping the momentum going,” but could actually be the key to any future movement on the ground.

Let us be frank: The current stalemate is ideological, not physical, and it hangs on two major contentions: “historical right” and “justice,” which must be wrestled with in words before we can expect any substantive movement on the ground.

Starting with “historical right,” we recall that a year ago, the Annapolis process was on the verge of collapse on account of two words: “Jewish state.”

In the week preceding Annapolis, Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat proclaimed, “The PA would never acknowledge Israel’s Jewish identity,” to which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reacted angrily with: “We won’t hold negotiations on our existence as a Jewish state…. Whoever does not accept this cannot hold any negotiations with me.”

Clearly, to the secular Israeli society, the insistence on a Jewish state has nothing to do with kosher food or wearing yarmulkes; it has to do with historical claims of co-ownership and legitimacy, which are prerequisites for any lasting peace, regardless of its shape. Olmert’s reaction, which is shared by the vast majority of Israelis, translates into: “Whoever refuses to tell his children that Jews are here by moral and historical imperative has no intention of honoring his agreements in the long run.”

In other words, recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state” is seen by Israelis as a litmus test for Arabs’ intentions to take peace agreements as permanent. Unfortunately, for the Arabs, the words “Jewish state” signal the legitimization of a theocratic society and the exclusion of non-Jews from co-ownership in the state.

Can these two views be reconciled?

Of course they can. If the PA agrees to recognize Israel’s “historical right” to exist (instead of just “right to exist” or “exist as a Jewish state”) fears connected with religious exclusion will not be awakened, and Israel’s demand for a proof of intention will simultaneously be satisfied: You do not teach your children of your neighbor’s “historical right” unless you intend to make the final status agreement truly final — education is an irreversible investment.

But would the PA ever agree to grant Israel such recognition?

This brings us to the second magical word: “justice.” One of the main impediments to Palestinians’ recognition of Israel’s “right to exist,” be it historical or de-facto, is their fear that such recognition would delegitimize the Arabs’ struggle against the Zionist program throughout the first half of the 20th century, thus contextualizing the entire conflict as a whimsical Arab aggression and weakening their claims to the “right of return.”

All analysts agree that Palestinians would never agree to give up, tarnish or weaken this right. They might, however, accept a symbolic recognition that would satisfy, neutralize and, perhaps, even substitute for the literal right of return.

Palestinian columnist Daoud Kuttab wrote in the Washington Post (May 12): “The basic demand is not the physical return of all refugees but for Israel to take responsibility for causing this decades-long tragedy.”

Similar to Jewish refugees from Arab countries, Palestinian refugees demand their place in history through recognition that their suffering was not a senseless dust storm but part of a man-made historical process, to which someone bears responsibility and is prepared to amend the injustice.

Journalist Uri Avnery, an Israeli peace activist and former member of the Knesset, believes that this deep sense of injustice can be satisfied through an open and frank Israeli apology.

“I believe that peace between us and the Palestinian people — a real peace, based on real conciliation — starts with an apology” he wrote in Arabic Media Internet Network, June 14 (www.amin.org).

“In my mind’s eye,” he writes, “I see the president of the state or the prime minister addressing an extraordinary session of the Knesset and making an historic speech of apology:

‘Madam Speaker, honorable Knesset,

‘On behalf of the State of Israel and all its citizens, I address today the sons and daughters of the Palestinian people, wherever they are.

‘We recognize the fact that we have committed against you a historic injustice, and we humbly ask your forgiveness.

‘The burning desire of the founding fathers of the Zionist movement was to save the Jews of Europe, where the dark clouds of hatred for the Jews were gathering. In Eastern Europe, pogroms were raging, and all over Europe there were signs of the process that would eventually lead to the terrible Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews perished.

‘All this does not justify what happened afterwards. The creation of the Jewish national home in this country has involved a profound injustice to you, the people who lived here for generations.

‘We cannot ignore anymore the fact that in the war of 1948 — which is the War of Independence for us and the Naqba for you — some 750,000 Palestinians were compelled to leave their homes and lands. As for the precise circumstances of this tragedy, I propose the establishment of a Committee for Truth and Reconciliation composed of experts from your and from our side, whose conclusions will from then on be incorporated in the schoolbooks, yours and ours.'”

Is Israeli society ready to make such an apology and assume such responsibility? Not a chance.

For an Israeli, admitting guilt for creating the refugee problem is tantamount to embedding Israel’s birth in sin, thus undermining the legitimacy of its existence and encouraging those who threaten that existence. The dominant attitude is: They started the war; wars have painful consequences; they fled on their own, despite our official calls to stay put. We are clean.

Can this attitude be reconciled with Palestinians’ demands for official recognition of their suffering? I believe it can.

Whereas Israelis refuse to assume full responsibility for the consequences of the 1948 war, they are certainly prepared to assume part of that responsibility. After all, Israelis are not unaware of stories about field commanders in the 1948 war who initiated private campaigns to scare Arab villagers and, on some occasions, to force them out.

So, how do we find words to express reciprocal responsibility? Here I take author’s liberty and, following Avnery, appeal to my mind’s eye and envision the continuation of that extraordinary Knesset session at the end of the Israeli president’s speech.

I see Abbas waiting for the applause to subside, stepping to the podium and saying:

“Madam Speaker, honorable Knesset,

“On behalf of the Palestinian people and the future state of Palestine, I address today the sons and daughters of the Jewish nation, wherever they are.

“We recognize the fact that we have committed against you a historic injustice, and we humbly ask your forgiveness.

“The burning desire of the founding fathers of the Palestinian national movement was to liberate Palestine from colonial powers, first the Ottoman empire and then the British Mandate Authorities. In their zeal to achieve independence, they have treated the creation of a Jewish national home in this country as a form of colonial occupation, rather than a homecoming endeavor of a potentially friendly neighbor, a partner to liberation, whose historical attachment to this landscape was not weaker than ours.

“We cannot ignore anymore the fact that the Great Arab Revolt of 1936-1939 has resulted in the British White Paper, which prevented thousands, if not millions, of European Jews from escaping the Nazi extermination plan. Nor can we ignore the fact that when survivors of Nazi concentration camps sought refuge in Palestine, we were instrumental in denying them safety and, when they finally established their historical homeland, we called the armies of our Arab brethren to wipe out their newly created state.

“Subsequently, for the past 60 years, in our zeal to rectify the injustice done to us, we have taught our children that only your demise can bring about the justice and liberty they so badly deserve. They took our teachings rather seriously, and some of them resorted to terror wars that killed, maimed and injured thousands of your citizens.”

Admittedly, this scenario is utopian. The idea of Palestinians apologizing to Israel is so heretical in prevailing political consciousness that only six Google entries mention such a gesture, compared with 615 entries citing “Israel must apologize.”

Yet, peace begins with ideas, and ideas are shaped by words. And the utopian scenario I painted above gives a feasible frame to reciprocal words that must be said, in one form or another, for a lasting peace to set in.

And if not now, when? Recall, we must keep the momentum going.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (www.danielpearl.org) named after his son. He and his wife, Ruth, are editors of “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl” (Jewish Lights, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.