Masked gunmen affiliated with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction marched through the streets of Ramallah in early October, firing automatic weapons into the air as crowds gathered to film the procession. The imagery harked back to the days of the second intifada, when the Palestinian leadership openly coordinated violence against Israel. Since then, lone-wolf stabbings, rocket attacks, and clashes with Israelis have left scores dead in Israel and in the Palestinian territories. Yet for all the talk of a third intifada, the likelihood of another uprising is roughly the same as it is on any other day in this blood-soaked conflict.
Historically, an intifada occurs when the Palestinian leadership openly endorses and coordinates widespread resistance, as the local committees (and later the Palestine Liberation Organization) did during the first intifada of the late 1980s and early 1990s and as Abbas’ predecessor, Yasir Arafat, did during the second intifada of the last decade. Abbas’ rise marked the end of the second uprising, as he worked to rein in the terror cells of his own Fatah movement and of its rival, Hamas, in the West Bank. As he made clear in a meeting of senior officials last Tuesday, the Palestinians will use “peaceful means and nothing else” in their conflict with Israel.
That doesn’t mean Abbas isn’t preparing for a fight; it just means his fight isn’t with the Israelis. It is, instead, with Hamas. In the West Bank, it is Hamas that is looking to provoke further instability and anti-Abbas sentiment. As Abbas’ Palestinian Authority has sought to diffuse tensions with Israel, Hamas has openly incited public protests and terror attacks across the West Bank in the hopes that further unrest will push an already vulnerable Abbas out of power.
AN ONGOING CYCLE
The current cycle of violence began in July, when Israeli settlers firebombed a Palestinian home in the West Bank, killing an 18-month-old child and his parents. Hamas officials called for protests, with one official declaring that every Israeli was a “legitimate target” for retaliation. In September, tensions on Jerusalem’s contested al Aqsa compound led Hamas to declare a “day of rage” in the West Bank, where several Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israelis. A week later, two Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron were killed after confrontations with Israeli soldiers, and at their funerals, Hamas again called for violent protests against Israel.
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