Analysis: Stabilizing the West Bank

Hunger strikes and future arrests may keep the flames alight, though they are beginning to die down.

Palestinians protest in support of hunger striker 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinians protest in support of hunger striker 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There are several factors behind the current wave of violence in the West Bank. Some of them stem from a return to terrorism and violent disorder by prisoners who were released under the Gilad Schalit exchange deal, and who have since been rearrested for violating the terms of their release.
As the IDF makes arrests, Palestinian elements attempt to delegitimize these security efforts, and use them as a pretext to launch disturbances.
As the IDF disperses the rioters, these efforts too become pretexts for more violence.
The issue of prisoners galvanizes the Palestinian street, and routinely causes clashes in the West Bank. This phenomenon is accompanied by false libels against Israel, such as accusations of torture, which incites yet more Palestinians to violence.
Defense sources say that ahead of the visit by US President Barack Obama, the Palestinian Authority is seeking a return to a calmer period.
The same sources view the PA’s security forces as a largely stabilizing factor. While far from infallible, the PA’s forces did, for example, organize the funeral march for Arafat Jaradat, the prisoner who died in an Israeli prison on Saturday, in a way that prevented it from turning into a major clash with the IDF, an event which could have led to a major escalation.
Due to the consensus around prisoners in Palestinian society, in recent days the PA’s forces didn’t feel able to stop hundreds of rioters from approaching roads in the West Bank with rocks and Molotov cocktails in their hands, and it was up to the IDF in the end to disperse them.
But on a day-to-day basis, the IDF does view the PA as a calming element that can prevent larger-scale violence.
For this reason, senior military echelons have opposed the government’s decision to withhold tax revenues from the PA – funds that are used to pay the salaries of the its security services.
The decision to freeze the payments, made by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in December, to punish the PA for its unilateral UN statehood bid, was recently reversed, and the authority received all of January’s revenues, though it has yet to pay all of its police officers their salaries.
The defense establishment in Israel believes salaries should be paid to members of the PA’s security forces on time, so that they show up for work and continue to exercise a calming effect. An absence of these forces would doubtless result in a far worse scenario, the defense sources argue.
Thus, the PA’s daily security coordination with the IDF – which is necessary for maintaining stability – is dependent on the regular payment of salaries.
According to the IDF’s evaluations, the current wave of violence will continue for some time, but will likely not turn into an all-out intifada.
Hunger strikes and future arrests may keep the flames alight, though they are beginning to die down. The number of rock throwing incidents, injuries, and attacks involving improvised explosives are all decreasing. The IDF has been able to contain the violence.
In case things take a turn for the worse, however, commanders, who will soon take charge of the IDF in the West Bank, began courses this week to further their understanding of how to deal with the type of rioting seen in recent days.
The additional training will include both reserves and conscripted officers. It is a reminder that despite the evaluations, more violent days may well lie ahead.