A layer of fist-sized rocks, shells of burnt-tires and hundreds of wrappings of tear-gas grenades remained this morning (Friday) to witness the massive march and demonstration of over ten thousand Palestinians by the Qalandiyah checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Two Palestinians were killed in the demonstration, that spread to other points along the Jerusalem fault-line and around settler enclaves in Palestinian neighborhoods, and over a hundred injured in what some were describing last night as "the start of a third Intifada."
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That may still prove to be case but today the area was deserted, save for international camera-crews and a IDF soldiers and border-police who were keeping their distance. "It was madness here last night," said Major Oren, a company commander in the reserve unit deployed to the sector when the regular artillery battalion previously in Qalandiyah was sent south to provide covering fire for the operation in Gaza. "I hope they spent up all their energy, it was like something out of the Intifada."
While Palestinians have been portraying the march to the checkpoint as a spontaneous outporing of anger at the ongoing killing in Gaza, mobilized on social media with the Twitter hashtag #48kMarch, Israeli military sources are claiming that it was organized in advance by Hamas activists. "We had advance information that they were hiring buses to bring in thousands for the march" said one officer.
As of Friday evening, the initial assessment was that Qalandiyah, while being the largest demonstration in the West Bank in over a decade, had been the peak of unrest and things will now begin to calm down.
As of Friday evening, East Jerusalem and Qalandiyah remained relatively quiet, save for a few small clashes in and around the Old City. The funeral procession of the two casualties from last night turned towards the Civil Administration headquarters on the outskirts of Ramallah but quickly dispersed. In some places in the West Bank there were more serious confrontations: In Huwara, two Palestinians were killed in violent demonstration and three were killed in Bet Omar. A further demonstration is expected tonight again in Qalandiyah after Iftar, the Ramadan fast-breaking meal, but security officials said they were not detecting the same level of preparations as on Thursday.
Most Israeli experts believe that the majority of Palestinian society in the West Bank is reluctant to launch another intifada, and undergo the long months, even years, of economic paralysis they experienced in the previous ones. That isn't the consensus however. Some believe that a new intifada is inevitable without any progress in the peace process. A senior officer in the IDF's Central Command said nearly four years ago that "if nothing happens on the diplomatic front for another year or so, the Palestinian Authority's security forces who are currently cooperating with us here will feel that they no longer have any interest in doing so. Some of them will point their weapons at us." That hasn't happened yet but many in the IDF admit that the main barrier to a new uprising in the West Bank is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' forces.
So far, even during low-points in the diplomatic process and following the sporadic attempts at achieving Fatah-Hamas unity, the security coordination has proven itself. Partly due to the fact that PA security chiefs view Hamas as their bitter rival and see their cooperation with Israel as key in preventing Hamas' wide-scale return to the West Bank. But will that cooperation be enough in stopping a third Intifada?
In the last four years, the IDF and Shin Bet have invested resources in closely monitoring Palestinian social media, particularly Facebook, in an attempt to detect brewing unrest. One of the conclusions is that even when Facebook pages calling for a third Intifada receive hundred of thousands of "likes," the great majority of these are of supporters from outside the West Bank, not local Palestinians.
Over the last ten years, the periodic outbreaks of clashes, particularly around the Annual Nakba Day commemorations, have not developed into more than a few days of violent confrontation. That was the case last month following the murder by Jewish suspects of 16 year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir and the still unsolved shooting of two Palestinian teenagers in Bitunya three months ago. Each episode triggered intensely violent clashes but they petered out after a few days.
There is little to indicate that this time around will be different, though we could be in for a few more days of confrontation in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Police and IDF officers believe that the prospect of a ceasefire in Gaza could also calm the tense atmosphere. But if a truce isn't reached soon, the threats of a Third Intifada may finally materialize.