Analysis: The West Bank tipping point

It is still too soon to talk about a new, armed phase in Palestinian attacks, but the coming weeks will indicate whether the area is heading for reduced violence or another escalation.

February 1, 2016 20:24
2 minute read.
Youth holds stone as Palestinians clash with IDF in the West Bank

Youth holds stone as Palestinians clash with IDF in the West Bank. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Recent security developments in the West Bank have been unusual in their scope and severity, and could lead to the conclusion that the area is on a clear path to another escalation. But such conclusions are premature.

Israel and the Palestinians appear to be at a tipping point in the West Bank, and the coming weeks will be the true indicator of whether the area is headed for a deescalation, or for a deterioration in the security situation.

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The fact that a Palestinian Authority police officer used his firearm to go on a shooting spree, targeting IDF soldiers, represents just the type of attack that could end up being an “inspiration” to other armed members of the Palestinian security forces. They, in turn, could launch copycat shootings.

Such a dangerous turn of events could spell the end of security coordination between Israel and the PA, and signify a major new escalation. However, this has not happened, and it is very much in the interest of both sides that it does not come to pass.

The PA is still guided by self-interest, meaning it continues security coordination with Israel and represses Hamas terrorist cells that are keen on toppling and replacing the PA, and terrorizing Israelis with atrocities.

As Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told Israel Radio on Monday, the PA foils 20 percent of organized terrorism, and Israel thwarts the remaining 80% of Hamas and Islamic Jihad plots.

This shared interest remains the glue that keeps events from spiraling further out of control.

The large-scale, mass-casualty terrorist plots are being thwarted on a nightly basis, leaving only lone-wolf attackers to act.

The profile of the shooter behind Sunday’s gun attack, which wounded three IDF soldiers, indicates that the Palestinian police officer decided to act on his own. He is the latest in a long line of lone terrorists who have so far killed 30 Israelis and wounded more than 300 since September.

Despite the persistent attacks, there is no sign of a mass mobilization by Palestinians to take part in violence.

There has been no recent spike in the number of overall incidents. In fact, the number of shootings, firebombings and stabbings, as well as rock-throwing and car-ramming attacks in Judea and Samaria, have remained relatively stable.

In fact, the IDF has even seen a small drop. That data is not supposed to comfort anyone, but it does indicate that there is still a possibility to move back from the brink.

Similarly, the decision by the IDF’s Central Command to impose a semi-closure on Ramallah on Monday was an unmistakable statement by Israel about its determination to check the flow of terrorist attacks.

The IDF put similar closures in place across the West Bank in recent weeks. At the start of January, for example, the village of Sa’ir found itself under temporarily closure after an 18-year-old local stabbed an IDF reservist at a bus stop at the Gush Etzion junction and was then shot and killed.

Closures are designed to disrupt the flow of terrorist attacks, to catch the next assailants on their way to their targets, and to send a clear statement about Israel’s determination to respond to attacks. They join a host of other IDF measures, both offensive and defensive, to keep the situation from escalating further.

The area is, however on the edge, and could go in either direction.

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