Analysis |

West Bank Demonstrations Are Not a Third Intifada – Yet

This weekend's clashes are reminiscent of the moments just before the first intifada. But unlike then, the IDF is not in control of Palestinian cities, and is better prepared to disperse mass gatherings.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

There were protests in the West Bank all weekend long, and they continued Sunday.

In addition to the demonstrations in the West Bank, the number of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strikes rose spiked this weekend in solidarity with Arafat Jaradat, a prisoner who died over the weekend at Megiddo prison.

His death adds to the already simmering tensions in the Hebron area in conjunction with the 19th anniversary of the massacre by Baruch Goldstein in the Cave of Machpelah. Goldstein's supporters mark the anniversary on Purim, which is today, while Palestinians commemorate the event on February 25 – that is, tomorrow.

Protests and confrontations are regularly held on Fridays throughout the West Bank, but the confrontations this weekend were far greater than usual, both because of the proliferation of locations and the number of participants.

With such a string of events, the public is asking whether or not a third intifada is upon us. But such a situation does not exist in a binary of yes or no. There is also an in-between situation of a further wave of protest in the Palestinian public. It is set against the background of disappointment with the lack of diplomatic progress, the financial crisis, signs that the Palestinian Authority is crumbling and public enthusiasm over Hamas' achievements of the past 12 years.

The sequence of events is a reminder of what led up to the first intifada. But there are two significant differences between Purim 2013 and late 1987, and both must be taken into consideration.

In 1987 the IDF controlled all the Palestinian cities, and was responsible for managing daily life there. At the time, the IDF was entrapped by the need to defend the settlers as they traveled to and from their settlements via the Palestinian cities, to protect government buildings surrounded by angry masses, and also to make hopeless attempts at maintaining a semblance of ordinary life.

In the first intifada the IDF expended valuable energy fighting the Palestinian merchants’ trade strike and opening or closing universities.

Today the mission is far clearer: The IDF is deployed to protect the traffic arteries, the settlements and of course to prevent terror attacks being launched from the West Bank into Israel. The roads may be long, but the army’s assignment is clear. Also, when there is a clear line that the protestors must be pushed away from, the army’s assignment is not complicated.

The other difference is the IDF’s deployment. The army was unprepared for the first intifada. There was no clear tactical approach as how to deal with disturbances of the peace. This is what gave rise to the order to “break arms and legs,” which to our horror was carried out in full, or hallucinatory contraptions such as the “hatzatzit” gravel-throwing device against protestors.

Today the army knows how to handle disturbances and puts an emphasis on training soldiers in preparation for such events. Admittedly, not every reserve unit is experienced in dealing with disturbances, but the recent disturbances have made the abilities of the Border Police and regular IDF units quite clear. One no longer sees soldiers jumping out of open jeeps in all their heavy equipment and running through the streets of refugee camps after rock-throwing children, getting into trouble and then having to be extricated from the situation.

Soldiers and policemen use a lot of tear gas, which is not pleasant, but not so terrible either. Photographers document the rioters, which helps them make arrests at night.

In internal discussions, IDF sources say that 2013 is a decisive year: Either the PA or the peace process will collapse. The settlers, meanwhile, are sitting on the fence.

In the first and second intifadas they heeded those calling for a hard-handed approach. In the first intifada they called on the IDF to shoot stone-throwers to kill, and in the second intifada they called for the IDF to win.

But with hindsight, the settlers’ leadership believes that the image of Judea and Samaria as the Bosnia of the Middle East makes the public loathe them. They prefer to concentrate on their wineries, bed and breakfasts, pools, water springs, bicycle lanes, motorcycle tours – everything that should speak to the hearts of average Israelis.

For now they are not demonstrating, not proclaiming and not pressing, and such conduct gives the heads of the defense establishment some breathing room. The army hopes that this little space can be harnessed for the promotion of diplomacy.

Palestinians hurl stones towards Israeli security forces during clashes at the Jalama checkpoint on February 24, 2013.Credit: AFP



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