Since the stabbing intifada began in September, some 32 Israelis have been killed, along with perhaps 150 Palestinians or Israeli Arabs who attacked, with about a third of the attackers young teenagers or pre-teens.
What has not happened is any escalation to planned, large scale incidents of terror of the kind that marked the second intifada. There have been no suicide bombings in buses, cafes or other crowded locales. Most of the attacks have been individuals or pairs operating together, with no known affiliation with larger groups uncovered by security personnel.
The Palestinian leadership appears to be confused. Mahmoud Abbas has instructed his security personnel to cool things, yet some members of Palestinian security services have been attackers, and Abbas has praised youngsters who have died as martyrs. Leading Palestinians have accused Israelis of nonjudicial executions, and have produce the fantastic figure of more than 15,000 Palestinians injured by Israelis.
Such a number could only be reached by Israeli personnel repeatedly spraying areas with gunfire where there have been attacks, and there is no record of such actions.
From the onset of this violence, Israeli commentators have been predicting an escalation by Palestinians. That it has not occurred suggests that this is an intifada of individuals, acting out of what may be several kinds of motives. Early on it was said that Israeli threats against al Aqsa were the prime motivation, but those claims have declined along with Israeli efforts to prevent high profile visits by prominent Jews to the Temple Mount. A number of the attackers have been close relatives of Palestinians killed or imprisoned years ago. Revenge is always present, perhaps brought to the fore by seeing others take a knife and making a heroic sacrifice. In at least two occasions, young attackers argued with family members, left home in a rage with knife in hand, perhaps intent on a suicide mission to punish their family adversary and/or gain a spot in Palestinian Paradise.
There were only five days in October when the Israeli Foreign Ministry did not record an attack against Israelis. the November through January period included 11-14 days each month without attacks, and the record through mid-February shows half of the days without attacks. October and November were the costliest months in terms of Israeli deaths, with 19 in the two month period. There were three deaths in December, four in January, and so far two in February.
This can go on for some time, as long as there remains Palestinian incitement and individuals open to the urge.
Several Border Police emptied their magazines against a Palestinian who attacked one of the police at the Damascus Gate to the Old City. A video of the killing has gone viral, and seems to challenge the Chief of Staff's distaste for that kind of reaction. Yet the video also conveys the chaos created by a knife attack. It's not the same atmosphere conducive to deliberation as an academic seminar.
Israel's security personnel are better organized to learn and react, and more successful than individual Palestinians from the age of 11 up, whose training comes from friends and the Internet.
Israel's success in limiting its casualties and imposing a high incidence of death, injury, and incarceration of Palestinians may be a factor that leads to the eventual demise of this uptick.
The destruction experienced by Gaza in 2014 and that by the West Bank in the second intifada may be lowering the incentives of Palestinians to escalate toward suicide bombings.
Declining to zero violence is beyond reality, as any review of Israeli media over the course of years will show. Few days go by without some kind of effort either uncovered, foiled during implementation, or succeeding. Most are not fatal, and are more annoying than dangerous to security personnel posted at points of friction and prepared with non-fatal means against stone throwers or mass marches toward a border crossing.
Without a dramatic change that is nowhere apparent on the horizon, we seem destined for periodic waves of violence. There will be individuals--hopefully few--who die or are injured. The country must must continue with high outlays for security.
There are those who blame Israel, and moderates who urge greater efforts to find a way to accommodate Palestinians.
Another view is that we've tried several times. It's the turn of Palestinians to produce a realistic proposal that will solve our mutual problems.
In the current ferment and warfare in the region, it seems most appropriate to stay out of the fray, and do what we can to assure that it doesn't spill over onto us.
Prominent lines of Muslim theology seem likely to assure continued tensions with Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. There are too many Muslims, too much animosity to others built into their religion and culture, too much incitement in their schools, mosques, and politics. It has all the signs of a problem without a solution.
It may help us that the same problem is appearing in the Muslim communities of Europe, and among a large wave of migrants.
Angela Merkel has said that the time is not ripe for the establishment of a Palestinian state. The French are talking about a peace conference in the Spring, and recognizing a Palestinian state no matter what the outcome.
If that happens, there'll be one more, and most likely additional governments signing on to recognition. Most likely, there'll be no significant changes on the ground.
Knowing the future is beyond us. Signs of peace or catastrophe are apparent to some, but the better bet is more of the same for those who must decide what to do today and tomorrow.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)Department of Political ScienceHebrew University of Jerusalem