Did Somebody Say Third Intifada’?

With economic and political conditions in the West Bank deteriorating, Palestinians are becoming increasingly impatient.

There’s something almost tedious about the flood of warnings that analysts and writers have been issuing about the likelihood of third intifada in the West Bank. Time after time, they (and we) have been cautioning that without any diplomatic progress on the horizon, the next violent confrontation with the Palestinians is only a matter of time. A group of professors and Middle East experts who met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the same point.

Still, the Israeli public – and, it seems, Israeli decision-makers --- prefer to hide behind the unprecedented quiet on the security front in the West Bank. It’s possible that the Israeli government still believes that the relatively comfortable economic conditions in the territory, certainly compared to those in Gaza, provide some kind of insurance policy against the eruption of another intifada.

This is not the case, however. Both the heads of the Israeli security establishment and the commanders of the Palestinian security apparatus appear to agree that the quiet in the West Bank is only temporary.

More than that, senior Israel Defense Forces commanders, like their Palestinian counterparts, argue that if the diplomatic process remains moribund, construction in the settlements continues and the periodic settler violence against Palestinians isn’t stopped, the Palestinian Authority apparatus will have difficulty maintaining its security coordination with Israel.

The reasons for this are many and are certainly obvious to the Palestinian eye, as well as to the Israeli security establishment (though the politicians don’t seem too interested).

First, the Palestinian population is increasingly agitating against the PA. This stems from, among other things, the close security cooperation with Israel that has resulted in hundreds of arrests, including of Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists, under the guise of maintaining law and order – all this when no progress is being made towards a Palestinian state.

Moreover, the PA apparatus is cracking down on any sign of protest against the PA or the man at its helm, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Last month Palestinian police brutally dispersed demonstrations against the PA, and on Sunday one of the human rights groups operating in the West Bank reported that the interrogations that followed were conducted in a far-from-proper manner, though much of the report was kept under wraps.

At the same time, the PA’s economic situation is deteriorating.  It is having difficulty paying its employees on time, even during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

To all this, one must add the general sense among Palestinians – in Gaza as well as the West Bank – that the era of dictatorships in the Middle East is ending and the feeling of Arab Spring is in the air. But even as the allies of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, seem to be a rising force in the region, the PA is perceived as being on the losing side.

Not long ago a prominent Palestinian analyst told me that the quiet in the territories won’t last for more than another 12-18 months. I must say that at this point his estimate looks optimistic, despite the relative calm. As always in the Palestinian arena, any spark – a Jewish terror attack, the torching of a mosque, or a perceived threat to the Al-Aqsa mosque – could lead to a general conflagration.