Analysis |

Israel Tries to Calm Nerves in the West Bank, but Outbreak of Third Intifada Depends on Palestinian Authority

A further escalation depends on the Palestinians - in particular, on the Palestinian Authority, which may or may not be in total control of what is transpiring, and also on public opinion, which has been agitated by recent events.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Amos Harel
Amos Harel

Israel is currently making a huge effort to calm nerves in the West Bank, following a wave of turbulent protests that worsened over the weekend. Alongside sharp messages to the Palestinian Authority, Israel is also taking steps on the ground in an attempt to rein in the violence and prevent an escalation.

But the question of whether the tensions will expand into a third intifada depends at the moment on the Palestinians - in particular, on the Palestinian Authority, which may or may not be in total control of what is transpiring, and also on public opinion, which has been agitated by recent events.

Sunday, Israel tried to do some damage control following the events of the weekend. The body in charge of coordinating activities in the territories took care to transfer a Kfar Kusra resident who was critically injured by settler gunfire from a Nablus hospital to an Israeli one. The goal is to avert another death, and another funeral, which could cause further escalation in Samaria.

At the same time, Israel launched an official investigation into the death of Palestinian detainee Arafat Jaradat at Megiddo Prison on Saturday. Israel allowed his family and their doctor to come to the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute in Tel Aviv for an update on the investigation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also ordered that tax revenues designated for the PA be released - funds that have been withheld since the end of January.

Israel - under pressure due to the recent events in the territories, and especially if the Americans make a request ahead of President Barack Obama's upcoming visit - is likely to consider additional steps as well, including a freeze on new administrative detentions, or the release of a handful of Fatah prisoners.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has sent a warning to the PA through his envoy, Isaac Molho, demanding the Palestinian leadership put an immediate stop to the present wave of violence.

At the moment, it doesn't look as if the warning especially impressed the Palestinians. The last two incidents - Jaradat's death, and the clash with settlers at Kusra - ignited a wave of protests that spread to the jails, where thousands of prisoners declared a hunger strike. That said, it doesn't appear that the violence has escalated to the point where it will engulf the entire West Bank.

At this stage, Israeli policy is to focus on containment. Its forces in the West Bank, which have yet to receive much reinforcement, received orders to display extra caution before opening fire. Israel will consider sending in additional forces, which will have to be vigorous in preempting so-called price-tag attacks by settlers against Palestinians. Such attacks could escalate tensions even further.

It will take at least a few more days to know whether all these steps will be sufficient to extinguish the current fire. Security figures yesterday said we need to wait until next weekend for the regularly scheduled Friday demonstration - another reminder that the West Bank is entering a phase reminiscent, at least somewhat, of the days preceding the two previous intifadas.

A Palestinian protester throws a stone during clashes with Israeli soldiers and border policemen in the West Bank city of Hebron February 24, 2013.Credit: Reuters

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