The Palestinians Are Not Battling With Israel, but With Their Apathy

Despite the diplomatic stalemate and the hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners in Israel, the residents of the West Bank do not seem interested in a violent protest.

On Tuesday, May 1, International Worker's Day was celebrated in Ramallah. Palestinian Authority workers had the day off. In the Town of Beitunia, located west of Ramallah, a demonstration was scheduled to be held near a checkpoint bordering the Ofer prison. The organizers planned to walk toward the prison in solidarity with the hunger strike of 1,300 security detainees in Israeli prisons. Seemingly, such an event would have a high potential of getting out of hand, where in the past the risk would have even been considered very high.

In light of the struggle the Palestinian prisoners are leading against Israeli authorities, one would have expected hundreds, maybe even thousands of people to show up. However, 30 minutes after the demonstration began there were no more than several dozen people. A close examination of the participants showed that the ones that did show up are more or less the same people who take part in almost all of the recent protests in Ramallah and its area. In fact, at a protest on Thursday in front of Ramle prison, the attendance was higher.

Palestinians protest in the West Bank - Hadar Cohen
Hadar Cohen

It is hard to say whether the absence of protesters is the result of Palestinian indifference, or maybe of despair, following the echoing failure of the second intifada, along with the public's frustration in the face of the split between Fatah and Hamas, to which no resolution is in sight.

Another explanation for the lack of participants in the displays of solidarity with the prisoners is that the hunger strikers, up until now, were not members of Fatah. Until the beginning of this week, only Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups of prisoners were protesting, while most of the incarcerated Palestinians in Israel are members of Fatah. Perhaps the fact that a few thousand Fatah prisoners have now joined the hunger strike could change the sentiment on the street. Indeed, it is hard to imagine families of prisoners joining the protest while their sons are not taking part in the strike.

The Palestinian public in the West Bank grew tired of protests and confrontations mainly due to Israel's shaping of the perception of the Palestinian public following the second intifada. It is not only a scar left by actions of the Israeli army, such as Operation Defensive Shield, but also the collapse of Palestinian society in the years following: the takeover of armed gangs over West Bank cities, the lack of law and order, the weakening of the Palestinian Authority and the chaotic atmosphere which harmed the local economy and damaged the public's sense of security.
A well-known pro-Palestinian analyst told Haaretz that no Palestinian wants to go back to the place they were a decade ago.

"They don't want to hear of a third intifada," he said.  "The public suffered so much from the second intifada, why would they ask for that again? No man wants to see his children die again, or get injured."  And so, even in the past week, it was hard not to be impressed by the relative stability of the economy, and more importantly the security, in the West Bank. Even though the economic boom of 2008-2009 has disappeared and been replaced by a significant slow in growth, the momentum in the real estate market has been maintained, and no less important, so has the quiet. The streets are cleared of armed men and it is difficult not to be impressed by the Palestinian Authority's relative control of the area.

On Tuesday night, the governor of Jenin, Kadura Mosa, died of a heart attack after shots were fired at his house. On the surface, this incident seems to be testimony that the Palestinian Authority is weakening. However, the incident now likely seems to be the result of a different, earlier incident, which proves the Palestinian Authority's resolve to enforce the law. Two weeks ago in northern Jenin, Palestinian policemen surrounded a house where a criminal fugitive was hiding, and shot him dead after he opened fire. The shooters at the governor's house are thought to be related to the criminal. Even after the death of its governor, Jenin continues to be an example of calm on the security front: every day, thousands of Arabs from Israel enter the city, mostly for commercial purposes.

The Palestinian cooperation with Israeli security forces is also kept with devotion. On Tuesday, five Israeli soldiers accidently entered the Palestinian town of Salfit, and Palestinian security forces were the ones to extract them safely. The following day, Palestinian forces also safely escorted out three Israeli soldiers after they mistakenly entered Qalqilya. At the same time, Palestinian security forces continue to transfer the IDF weapons belonging to terrorist groups, or weapons lost by Israeli soldiers.

A top Palestinian official told Haaretz this week that the Palestinian intelligence recently arrested a terrorist cell in Ramallah that had planned to capture Israeli soldiers or settlers. Moreover, despite of the talk about Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, it turns out that in the past few months Palestinian forces in the West Bank have been operating against Hamas and Islamic Jihad and have arrested their men. As long as the Palestinian Authority and its head, Mahmoud Abbas, insist on keeping the peace, there is not much of a chance to see the Palestinian street rising up against the Israeli occupation.

It is unclear whether the split between Fatah and Hamas plays a role in the lack of Palestinian public support of the protests. Some claim it has nothing to do with it, while others say the tear holds a major role in the public's indifference. According to the latter opinion, the dispute between the two factions adds to the feelings of disappointment and fatigue of the Palestinian street over useless struggles, while the political leadership is busy with inter-partisan quarrels.

A top Palestinian official told Haaretz that all mediating efforts between the sides have come to a halt and reconciliation is unrealistic at the moment. Meanwhile, Hamas and Khaled Meshal are preoccupied by internal leadership struggles. The Palestinian public is aware of the internal controversy, and it seems that it affects the organization's weakening status. In the last student council elections of most West Bank universities and colleges, Fatah secured over 50 percent of the votes. Hamas also found significant support, but did not win at any race.

It is possible to find quite a few similarities between the current situation to the one that prevailed in the West Bank in May 2000, several months before the second intifada: a lack of diplomatic solution, continued settlement construction, prisoners' hunger strike, and the sentiment that there is no partner on the Israeli side. The most significant difference, however, is the manner in which the Palestinian Authority is currently operating and its adamant opposition to the use of violence.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that there are those in Israel that would claim that the relative calm proves that there is no way to resolve this conflict, it must be remembered that there is still potential for a flare-up. If there would be a Jewish terror attack or a violent incident around the Temple Mount, the Palestinian apathy may just disappear.