Back in 2007, visiting the West Bank city of Nablus required passage through one
of the most notorious checkpoints in the Palestinian Territories:
Named after a small Palestinian village located in close
proximity to Nablus, Hawara was known to the IDF as a magnet for pipe bombs,
stabbing attacks and suicide bombers on their way to assault targets inside of
For Palestinians, the checkpoint was the cause of daily misery,
crippling their freedom of movement and destroying their economy and
In 2011, Hawara, along with hundreds of other checkpoints,
was dismantled, enabling freedom of movement to and from Nablus for the
Palestinians. As part of goodwill gestures to the Palestinian Authority, the IDF
decided to gradually ease security measures, in spite of the fact that Israel
and the Palestinians are still deadlocked in a bitter conflict with no end in
sight. The only difference between today and 2007 is that the Palestinians have
ingeniously replaced their violent tactics for civil demonstrations and peaceful
protests, a phenomenon that Israel seems increasingly unable to counter in an
While the images of young Palestinian children hurling
stones at IDF tanks have captivated the world since the first intifada, the past
four years have witnessed a spike in dramatic and high profile displays of civil
disobedience and non-violent protest by the Palestinians. The IDF brass has
repeatedly expressed its frustration with the IDF’s ability to handle these
protests. Just recently, the popular whistle-blower website Wikileaks released
the details of a meeting between American and Israel officials, where OC Central
Command Major-General Avi Mizrahi reportedly stated that non-violent protests in
the West Bank posed more of a strategic threat than violent ones.
these demonstrations were organized with the assistance of the Palestinian
leadership, foreign governments and powerful NGOs. Examples of such protests
include the “Nakba” and “Naksa” day border marches, the weekly Bil’in and Na’lin
security fence protests, and, perhaps the most prominent example, the Gaza
Flotilla movement. Although some of these incidents involved sporadic violence
between protestors and the IDF, they were predominantly peaceful in nature, and
did an excellent job of keeping the Palestinian plight in the world’s focus
while portraying Israel as the aggressor.
THE ISRAELI government still
cites the security threat as the primary reason to retain control over the West
This assertion has been subject to endless debate over the past
several years, and detailed positions both supporting and refuting the claim
have been offered by politicians and security experts alike. Unfortunately,
Israeli society as a whole has been slow to comprehend that the Palestinians’
adoption of non-violent tactics has now become one of the greatest strategic
threats to Israel. It has breathed new life into the Palestinian statehood bid,
and will continue to haunt the IDF as it prepares for whatever outcomes arise
from September 20th onward.
The shift in strategy can be attributed to a
number of factors: By 2007, security measures implemented by the IDF made it
nearly impossible to execute a successful terror attack within Israel proper.
The completion of the security barrier, combined with nightly counter-terror
raids, prevented most Palestinian militants from leaving their neighborhoods,
let alone crossing the Green Line to attack Israeli civilians. More importantly,
the rise of Hamas in Gaza left Israel and the West with no other choice but to
support what was then the “lesser of two evils,” the Fatah-led Palestinian
Authority. This support allowed the PA to rebuild its security forces, restore
the economy of the West Bank, attract massive foreign investment and aid
projects, and establish the governing infrastructure that would eventually be a
key component of its current Statehood bid.
As the vote for statehood in
the United Nations approaches, the Palestinian Territories are still divided
between Hamas-led Gaza and PA-controlled West Bank.
In the West Bank, the
economy is booming, hundreds of checkpoints have been removed, and former terror
hubs like Nablus are now patrolled by Abbas's Western-trained security forces.
The situation in Gaza is quite the opposite, with Hamas jostling for power with
dozens of extremist groups, and the economy greatly affected by years of
fighting and the Israeli blockade.
Although no reasonable analyst doubts
that Abbas’s statehood bid will pass in the General Assembly, there has been
mounting speculation over the possibility that a non-violent intifada will
engulf the West Bank once again.
To both the benefit and detriment of
Israel, the Palestinian authority will almost certainly employ the same dramatic
displays of non-violence that have crippled Israel’s image for the past four
Mahmoud Abbas, Salaam Fayyad, and the numerous pro-Palestinian
NGO’s understand that violence has not only harmed the Palestinian image, but
damaged their efforts and arguments for independence. Demonstrations like those
which occurred on last year’s “Nakba” day, with the supposed descendants of
Palestinian refugees marching on Israel’s borders in a symbolic effort to return
to their homes stirred emotions not felt by the international community since
the British quarantined the “Exodus.”
In addition, the Palestinian
population in the West Bank largely understands that a renewed wave of terrorism
will destroy their economy, bring the IDF back into Palestinian cities, and
severely disrupt their quality of life. Furthermore, a return to violence would
most likely prompt beneficiaries such as the US and EU to withhold aid to the
Palestinian Authority, a key factor in maintaining financial security and order
in the West Bank. A failure to pay wages to civil servants and security forces
would only serve to bolster Hamas in the West Bank, a development that Fatah the
West, and Israel need to avoid at all costs.
While the Palestinian
Authority has worked vigorously to rebrand itself, Hamas has shown little to no
interest in abandoning its terror tactics. Additionally, the group’s refusal to
reconcile with the Palestinian Authority has served to delegitimize their
statehood bid, and will prevent Mahmoud Abbas from addressing the UN as the
legitimate representative of Palestinian people.
The PA’s successful
adoption of non-violent tactics to boost their statehood efforts begs the
question why Hamas doesn’t follow a similar path. The answer is simple: Unlike
the PA, Hamas doesn’t subscribe to the idea of a Palestinian state as proposed
by Mahmoud Abbas. A Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders is in
contradiction with the Hamas Charter, which calls for the complete destruction
of the Jewish state, obviously forbidding the consideration of a two-state
solution. For this reason, we can expect that groups like Hamas and Islamic
Jihad will increase their efforts to launch terror attacks from the West Bank in
an attempt destabilize the West Bank and ruin the progress of its rivals in the
PA. In fact, Hamas has openly criticized the PA’s statehood bid, calling it a
“cosmetic” move that will accomplish nothing. The organization even went so far
as to forbid protests in the Gaza Strip that support the PA
Regardless of Hamas’ strategy, the current Israeli government
realizes that its campaign to delegitimize the Palestinian statehood bid is
futile. No amount of YouTube videos, public relations outreach, or diplomatic
initiatives will counter the brilliant images of flag-brandishing civilians
marching towards rifle-wielding soldiers in a march for freedom and
self-determination. If history is any indicator, journalists from around the
world will likely be out in force attempting to catch the IDF responding
violently, should another “Marmara” or “Nakba” day-style provocation produce
lifeless bodies in their midst.
As the Palestinians continue to adopt
such tactics, they leave Israel in an increasingly painful position: retain our
presence in the West Bank, or risk complete political and economic isolation.
The statehood vote itself will likely draw a reaction of even the most
nationalistic Israelis, as the one-by-one “for-or-against” process will evoke
memories of the birth of our own nation. It seems as though the State of
Palestine has arrived. Let’s hope that its creation isn’t marred by years of war
and violence, for our own sake.
The writer is an Argov Fellow for
Leadership and Diplomacy at the Inter-Disciplinary Center in Herzliya. He works
for a security consulting firm based in Tel Aviv and is co-founder of the
Israeli Centrism website.
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