Will the PA erupt over sovereignty in the Jordan Valley?

The odds are against massive violence after annexation, but Israel must be prepared for any scenario

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a leadership meeting in Ramallah, in the West Bank May 19, 2020 (photo credit: ALAA BADARNEH/POOL VIA REUTERS)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a leadership meeting in Ramallah, in the West Bank May 19, 2020
Those opposing extending sovereignty over the Jordan Valley warn that the areas controlled by the PA are likely to cause widespread Palestinian violence and opposition, even a third intifada.
For over one-hundred years, terrorists, revolutionaries and rebels have studied why men rebel in order to promote the fight against the state and state officials, and army officers and police who wanted to know the answer in order to repress them.
Yet, no one really knows why mass violence breaks out.
As Hanna Arendt, the famous political philosopher noted, the professional revolutionaries who spend days and nights to bring about revolutions are almost always as surprised when it breaks out as the state that seeks to quell them.
This was so in the 1987 intifada. The only common denominator between Israel and the PLO was the element of surprise both sides faced at the outbreak and spread of mass violence.
What happened in the Arab Spring is yet another excellent example of how surprising such events can be.
To recall, it began when a young peddler was given a fine in a peripheral town in Tunisia for blocking the sidewalk, which compels pedestrians to dangerously walk in the road. Anyone who has been to a Third World country knows the perils the peddlers and their carts pose. The female warden who imposed the fine had received awards for conscientious public service and was later acknowledged by the family of the peddler who subsequently immolated himself.
Not only did he burn (a terribly painful death), so did much of Tunisia. Within four weeks, a dictator who ruled Tunisia for over thirty years with an iron, albeit able hand, judging from Tunisia’s economic performance, fled for his life to Saudi Arabia.
In this example, the details of the outbreak are important. Self-immolation led to the Tunisian revolution, but in the forty self-immolations which followed with the goal of creating revolutions in Jordan, Algeria and Morocco, none succeeded. Judging from the consequences of their acts, they died in vain.
How could it be that an act that spurred a wave of revolutionary violence, repeated at the height of the wave elicit no response is part of the mystery of why men rebel.  No one really knows why a particular event sets the massive wave of protest.
Not yet convinced? The same can be said of the protests surrounding the death of George Floyd or the severe beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles nearly thirty years ago. But there were other such events in between that didn’t elicit such a response.
Though we do not know why particular events unleash mass violence and protest, we do know why mass protest is so difficult to pull off and why most of the times organized attempts fail. Mancur Olson, demonstrated theoretically that the greater is the consensus and importance of the issue, the more unlikely that many will do anything about it. Most people who have to risk their time, money and worse, their lives, hope that for that even for a worthy cause the next person or persons do it in their stead.
Reserve duty in Israel is a classic example. Most young Israelis will readily acknowledge the need to go to reserve duty, but many when called, will ask for numerous reasons, to be exempted. Just look at the summons to reserve duty: it amounts to fifty words. The sanctions on the other side of the summons in small print is ten times the amount.
The same dynamic is in play when the PA and Fatah call for massive protest. Most hope that the next person or persons face the tear gas, the rubber bullets, imprisonment or fines, and the rarer possibility of being maimed or killed.  Few actually show up.
Palestinian officials who are threatening massive violence know this well. Most of the days of rage they announced in the past yielded minor demonstrations. The waves of violence that did erupt usually caught them (and the Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency] and IDF) by surprise.
Of course, this does not mean that the declaration will not elicit protest. The PA has its Fatah professionals who are paid to do their job, but they are hardly in numbers which can produce mass and continuous violence.
As for the Palestinian security forces trained by generals of the US army since 2006, they are hardly likely to be deployed in violence against Israel. They are too important to the PA on the home front – to suppress Hamas which defeated the PA in Gaza in 2007.
Nor is it likely that the Palestinian soldiers will fight ardently. This insight is from ardent Zionist and former US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. On his first visit to Palestine, he met the twenty-year-old pioneers who sneered at anything bourgeoisie, pining instead for the work battalions or battling malaria in draining the swamps. Ten years on, he noted that many he met on his second visit, pined for an office with a fan.
The Palestinian security officers, most of whom, have been in the service for over ten years, and thus are at least thirty years old. Many have families and all have been accruing pension rights. It is doubtful that many will be enthused to take on a far superior IDF.
Is my prognosis right? The answer is that it is an educated hunch of a student of Palestinian politics, protest and violence for nearly forty years.
Needless to say, the Shin Bet, the IDF and the Border Police should be prepared for the worst.

The writer is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University.