It is still too early to say whether the present terrorist attacks and sporadic violence between Israelis and Palestinians will spiral out of control. But much depends on the way leaders on both sides decide to manage the conflict.
Already, politicians, commentators, and activists on both sides are referring to the terrorist murders of four Israelis and the killing of three Palestinian rioters by IDF forces as the advent of a third intifada.
There have been flashpoints both inside the Green Line and in Judea to Samaria. On Wednesday, it even reached Kiryat Gat, where an Arab assailant stabbed an IDF soldier, and Petah Tikva, where a young man was stabbed outside a mall.
Fighting in the Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem raged for hours on Tuesday after some 2,000 mourners buried Abdulraham Obeidallah, a 13-year-old boy accidentally killed by an IDF soldier.
In Jaffa, dozens of Arab Israelis took to the streets this week in solidarity with the Palestinians. The protests quickly turned violent. A number of policemen and civilians were lightly wounded.
Hundreds of Palestinians converged on the Kalandiya checkpoint this week and Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances evacuated 12 who were wounded. One was said to be in serious condition from being hit in the eye with a rubber bullet, according to The Jerusalem Post’s Seth J.
Frantzman, who attended the demonstration. According to a report by The New York Times, one Palestinian was shot in the spinal cord and a woman was shot in the neck.
Meanwhile, there was another stabbing attack near the Lion’s Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City. A teenaged Palestinian girl knifed an Israel who then shot her.
The atmosphere is extremely volatile. However, a number of factors mitigate against a repeat of the cycle of violence that led to the second intifada.
First, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has a vested interest in preventing the situation from getting out of control. During a meeting this week of the PLO Executive Committee in his office in Ramallah, he reportedly instructed PA security forces to work toward preventing further escalation.
Abbas knows that a complete breakdown of security cooperation with Israel could easily lead to anarchy that would endanger his rule. The forces seeking to sustain and expand the Palestinian uprising are coming up against Abbas’s Fatah leadership.
Second, unlike the second intifada, Israel’s security forces have so far refrained from making major fatal mistakes. One of the triggers of the second intifada was the police’s brutal response to Palestinian rioting on the Temple Mount, which left seven Palestinians dead and some 300 wounded. Another 12 Arab Israelis were killed in subsequent days. So far, we have not seen such a high level of fatalities on the Palestinian side.
Third, Palestinians do not want to relive the deep trauma of the second intifada, which claimed the lives of about 3,000 Arabs – including terrorists – and 1,000 Israelis over five years. Avoiding a repetition of those years has defined much of Palestinian politics since.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has exhibited responsible leadership. On one hand he has ordered the IDF and police to maintain order. At the same time, the prime minister has not allowed ministers of his cabinet to push him into reacting irresponsibly. Many of these ministers seem more interested in exploiting populist sentiment to increase their popularity than by a true desire to calm emotions and save lives on both sides. Despite claims to the contrary from within the cabinet, the IDF’s hands are not tied. Military force has so far been used judiciously.
The chances of progress on the diplomatic front with the Palestinians are so remote that they are practically non-existent. Palestinians’ minimum demands on issues such as Jerusalem, refugees, and borders far exceed the maximum concession any conceivable Israeli government could make.
But that does not mean there is nothing to talk about.
Israelis and Palestinians have numerous shared interests.
Both peoples would benefit from deeper cooperation in the fields of security, economics, and the environment to name just a few. Perhaps through true dialogue and mutual recognition of the other side’s basic humanity a measure of peaceful coexistence can be restored.