When demonstrations against the Israeli occupation erupted in Gaza last December 8-9, few Israeli politicians or military commanders expected them to last very long. They were perceived as merely another in the sporadic series of "riots" that had periodically—and only briefly each time—annoyed Israeli authorities since 1967 in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank ("Judea and Samaria") and the Golan Heights.

Soon it became clear that these disturbances were quite unlike those of the previous twenty years. Within days the Gaza unrest spilled over into the West Bank, and the authorities lengthened their estimate of the time required to suppress it: a few weeks, perhaps even a month or two. By late February, as the rioting continued, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his army commanders grew more impressed with the fundamental grievances behind the uprising, which in their judgment could be addressed only through a political solution, not by military force. Some field officers and members of the General Staff even adopted an Arabic term, intifadeh (uprising), used by the Palestinians themselves, to describe what was happening.

By chance in late March two dozen international political scientists converged in Jerusalem for a meeting sponsored by Bir Zeit University on the West Bank, for a long-planned conference on the deeper impact of the occupation. What we had foreseen as an academic meeting took on a more immediate agenda. We met with numerous Palestinian professional organizations and traveled throughout the West Bank and Gaza, visiting towns and villages, refugee camps, and hospitals crowded with hundreds of patients injured in the uprising.

Clearly, we observed, the intifadeh was having an enduring political, social and economic impact, not only on Arab-Jewish relations within the territories, but throughout Israeli society. Beyond the Middle East, it was obvious there would be ramifications for Israeli and Palestinian relations with the United States, the Soviet Union and Western Europe.


The intifadeh differs from previous disturbances in its intensity, its pervasiveness and its leadership. In mid-November 1987, a U.N. official in Gaza predicted—almost to the day—when the uprising would occur, for he perceived it as inevitable after twenty years of occupation, frustration and Palestinian disillusionment with larger political forces that seemed incapable of ending or even ameliorating their plight. Among the objects of their anger were not only the Israelis, the Americans and the United Nations, but all Arab regimes and at times the bureaucracy of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Even the most benign policies could not deflect the mounting anger and frustration bred in the generation raised under occupation. Well over half the Palestinian population of the occupied territories has lived all their lives under Israeli domination, and most have lived in this situation for nearly all their lives. True, Palestinians have always lived under oppressive rule, initially Ottoman, then British and, since 1948, Israeli, Egyptian or Jordanian. But regardless of Egyptian or Jordanian harshness, rule by Israel seemed another matter altogether. Palestinians considered it far more degrading to live under a non-Arab regime, no matter what benefits, if any, that regime might offer.

By the end of 1987 frustration among Palestinian youth could not be controlled, even by the cooler heads among the older generation, the traditional "notables" or the occupation forces with their threats of increasing use of force. Despite promises to "improve the quality of life" from the Reagan Administration, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and King Hussein of Jordan, the number of university students who had to accept menial labor in Israel was increasing. Young Palestinians, among the best educated groups in the Middle East, had only limited opportunities to apply their higher skills, especially since the return of thousands of workers from the Gulf states following cutbacks in oil production during the early 1980s.

The population of the occupied territories has been increasing at a rapid rate, faster than anticipated by Palestinian or Israeli demographers, resulting in teeming villages, towns and refugee camps. Stifling pressures of life in this cramped environment have been exacerbated by policies that restrict the expansion of Arab urban areas and have placed some 50 percent of land and most water sources under Israeli control, frequently at the disposal of the new Jewish settlers.

Discontent with deteriorating economic and social conditions has been politicized in what the Israeli press has characterized as "schools of hatred": the Israeli prisons and detention centers where tens of thousands have been held, for periods ranging from a day to a decade or more. According to Israeli estimates, some 300,000 arrests have occurred in the occupied territories since 1967. Assuming that a large percentage are multiple arrests of a single person, a modest estimate of the number of youths who have served time or been in detention is some 50,000 to 60,000.

The Jerusalem Post has described Ansar 2, one of the new detention centers for rock-throwers in Gaza, as "perhaps the single most efficient operational institution for the indoctrination of Gaza youth." The treatment received by inmates in Ansar 2 and in other detention centers is more likely to breed new terrorists than to teach political moderation. Twenty years of direct, daily contact with occupation authorities has, perhaps more than any other factor, created deeply ambivalent feelings of resentment and irrepressible frustration.

Added to the overflow of bitterness caused by the experiences of daily life in the territories was the Palestinians’ feeling of abandonment by the outside world, particularly by their Arab brethren, who did little to end the recent "war of the camps" in Lebanon where Palestinians, many of them relatives of those in the occupied territories, were besieged for months by the Shi‘ite Amal militia. The Arab League summit in Amman during November 1987 produced little apparent support for the Palestinians. Although the meeting was convened to deal with the Gulf war, Palestinians in the territories perceived the secondary attention it devoted to their problem as a slight, an attempt to avoid confronting the Palestinian issue head on.

By December these economic, social and political frustrations needed only a chance spark to create the long-anticipated explosion. It was provided by a relatively minor incident in which an Israeli military vehicle ran down and killed four Gaza laborers. Wild rumors spread that the Palestinians were killed intentionally, in retaliation for the stabbing death of an Israeli in Gaza the day before. The incident precipitated spontaneous anti-Israeli demonstrations by school-age youths in a Gaza refugee camp. When the army arrived to put down the riots, soldiers were stoned, in what soon became a routine. Throwing stones, iron bars, insults and an occasional Molotov cocktail at the security forces has since become the hallmark of the intifadeh. Flying the banned Palestinian flag is another challenge to authority; when the flag is unavailable or confiscated, any public display of the national colors—red, white, green and black—is recognized as tantamount to a demonstration of resistance against Israeli rule.

What began as sporadic protest by random groups of restless youth not only spread, but developed into an organized resistance movement with an underground leadership, a definite political objective, and a well-planned and integrated strategy. From rock throwing, insults and the illegal display of national colors and patriotic slogans, tactics were devised to extend participation to the entire Palestinian community. These have included an economic boycott of many Israeli products, non-payment of taxes to Israel, mass resignations of Israeli-appointed Arab police and local government officials, and week-long strikes closing down—except for a few hours daily—all trade, commerce, transport, education and other public facilities.


As the intifadeh rose from random violence, the ad hoc leaders confirmed their resolve to refrain from using "hot" weapons including guns and explosives, although Israeli intelligence and rumor among Palestinians indicated that caches of small arms were hidden throughout the territories. It was evident that they would be no match against the overwhelming weaponry of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Furthermore, passive resistance or small-scale violence gave the Palestinians a decided public relations advantage in the Western media, where sympathy was swayed by images of heavily armed troops with tanks, armored vehicles, helicopters and tear gas confronting unarmed civilians using only the weapons they could tear up from the streets. This disparity in the weapons available to each side assured a certain measure of restraint: the Palestinians refrained from killing Israeli soldiers, and the Israelis limited their use of force, at least for the first months. True, scores of Arab homes were destroyed in retaliation for anti-Israeli actions or suspected actions; there were beatings; tear gas was used on a wide scale; Palestinians were shot. But no villages were destroyed, and there were no mass expulsions or executions.

The intifadeh is not a strictly passive, Gandhi-style satyagraha movement of nonviolence. It is a mass civil resistance, new to the Arab-Israeli conflict, demanding self-determination and an end to occupation. From the perspective of those who see all Palestine (Israel, the West Bank and Gaza) as a single political entity, it amounts to a civil war between the two claimants to sovereignty of the land, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. For those who see Palestine divided between a Jewish state and some kind of Arab entity, it is a colonial war in which Jewish settlers, often backed by the IDF, have imposed their rule on a subject people.

The intifadeh already has had a widespread impact on the occupied Palestinian community, galvanized to action and unified as never before. Unlike the situation in the 1936-39 Arab revolt against the British Mandate, traditional cleavages among the rebels have now been closed. A major reason for the failure of the revolt a half a century ago was internecine struggle among diverse Palestinian factions, the notable families and different regions and classes, resulting in more Arabs killed by Arabs than by Britons or Jews. So far none of these traditional tensions have surfaced, perhaps because a new generation has taken control, a generation that refuses to recognize the "historic rights" of the notables, the propertied classes or leaders designated by the authorities.

The community seems to have overcome the characteristic divisiveness that long plagued Palestinian politics, to the point that assassins from one faction would deal directly with competition from another. In recent years this rivalry resulted in assassinations of dissidents such as Said Hammami and Isam Sartawi. Now representatives or sympathizers of the diverse PLO factions are collaborating. The various Palestinian groups backed by one Arab country or another—Syria, Iraq, Libya—have buried their differences, at least temporarily. Even Islamic fundamentalists, often bitterly at odds with secular nationalists, are supporting the uprising. This subverts the Israeli authorities’ tactic of encouraging, or at least not interfering with, fundamentalist opposition to the secularists.

Although the leadership is still clandestine, it is assumed to be young, well educated, not tied to the traditionalists or notables, and closely linked to the extensive social communication networks existing among Palestinians. After their initial spontaneous uprising, local leaders apparently established a liaison with PLO chieftains abroad.

The new leadership represents diverse ideological trends, social backgrounds and occupations. Many are sons and daughters of the refugee camps, who have achieved upward social mobility through the expanding educational networks. A generation or two ago it was principally children of notables who acquired the wherewithal to become leaders. Since the 1950s thousands of Palestinians from fellahin families have graduated from universities. Now represented in all professions, many have become national leaders. Another leadership component is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) cadre which has run the network of refugee camp services for over thirty years. This group includes several thousand administrators, physicians, nurses, accountants, teachers, and health and social workers. They are the "technical service" of the national movement, a cadre with access to all levels of society, who may some day provide the foundation of a Palestinian civil service.

The new leadership also demonstrates that traditional Muslim-Christian tensions have been overcome. Although never as disadvantaged among Palestinians as in other Middle Eastern societies, Christians, even if militant nationalists, did not find it easy in the past to completely overcome the stigma of their religious background. Certainly now these interfaith tensions seem to have dissipated.

Israeli attempts to stem the uprising through thousands of arrests and imprisonments brought no quick respite. The larger the number of arrests, the wider the intifadeh. During March, in anticipation of Land Day demonstrations, some 1,000 "militants" were apprehended, bringing the total imprisoned at the time to about 4,000. But these detentions failed to prevent the special demonstrations planned for Land Day or slow down the countrywide resistance.

For the first time since 1967 nearly every Palestinian religious figure, Christian or Muslim, has spoken out against the occupation. Religious services at Christmas and Easter, which usually attract thousands of foreign visitors, were toned down, and Israeli officials charged with cultivating amicable relations with the church took note of the political undertones in statements from the various Jerusalem patriarchs.

Women play a key role, often assuming leadership positions. Many are skilled professionals in medicine, education or law, who have set up emergency teams to treat the wounded or have organized child care to deal with pupils during the strikes or militarily imposed school closings. In Ramallah, women were instrumental in organizing volunteer patrols after a mass resignation by the local police. With strikes closing food stores most of the day, women organized provisions for those unable to shop at the designated hours, whose funds were drained as a result of economic deadlock, or whose breadwinners had been arrested or killed.

Another blow to the Israeli strategy for dealing with the West Bank has been the way traditional urban-rural tensions have been suspended. During the late 1970s Israel appointed a "civil administration" to devise new ways of coping with Palestinian nationalism. Actually the civil administration was subservient to the West Bank military commander. Its head was a reserve colonel, Menachem Milson, on leave from a professorship in Arabic literature at the Hebrew University. Milson convinced then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon to adopt a new West Bank policy. The key to their program was exploitation of traditional city-country tensions through creation of "village leagues" supported by Israeli authorities and rewarded with special privileges for their collaboration. The village leagues were extremely unpopular, and the Milson/Sharon strategy never paid off. If there was ever a hope of reviving this program, the intifadeh has demonstrated how farfetched it has become. One of the principal village league chieftains now supports the intifadeh, and West Bank villages are in the vanguard of the uprising. Many have become semi-independent Palestinian enclaves, physically isolated from the rest of the country, but centers of fervent nationalism.

The Israeli military simply does not have the manpower, without a much wider mobilization, to maintain permanent outposts in the more than 100 Palestinian villages. Thus villagers are often left to their own devices for weeks at a time, or until some incident draws attention to them. Most have joined the national strike, closing schools and municipal offices, raising the outlawed Palestine flag, posting forbidden directives from the leadership, and often setting up their own clandestine local committees. The euphoria of the uprising often leads to tragedy when troops unexpectedly enter a village on some pretext or another, resulting in clashes and heavy village casualties. But these incidents only intensify support for the uprising and further undermine the hopes of some Israelis to widen cleavages between Palestinian peasants and city inhabitants.

In the first round of struggle between occupied Palestinians and the Israeli army the former seemed to have maintained the advantage. It was not a military victory but a political-social one. The intifadeh took Israel by surprise, creating political turmoil within the country; it raised Palestinian national consciousness, created a new sense of solidarity and once again focused world attention on the Palestine problem. But there was a heavy price, not only in casualties, but in the precarious economies of the West Bank and Gaza.


Since 1967 the economies of the territories have been dependent on Israel. They were described by one scholar as "an auxiliary sector of both the Israeli and the Jordanian economies." A substantial section of the workforce in both Gaza and the West Bank was employed, mostly in unskilled labor, within Israel, and income it provided was responsible to a large extent for the spate of new homes, household goods, automobiles and other consumer items that spread throughout the territories, especially in the West Bank. While the territories were flooded with imports from Israel, little if any industrial development took place. Gaza and the West Bank became major markets for Israeli products, importing far more from the occupier than they exported to it. Over the years Jordan became the principal market for exports, mostly agricultural, from the West Bank. Both Gaza and the West Bank became dependent on Israel as a major source of employment and income, and for many daily consumer items such as clothing, preserved foods, and the like.

The economic impact of the intifadeh began to be felt after the first months. Due to strikes, the number of workers traveling to Israel each day greatly declined, and household income fell. The leadership declared an economic boycott, but Israel also used economic measures to fight the uprising. Periodically the lines between Israel and the territories were closed, shutting off all economic intercourse. Equally important, the bridges between the territories and Jordan were blocked for lengthy periods, cutting off the West Bank’s largest export market. After several months there was nearly total economic stagnation, with little prospect of improvement any time soon.

Some nationalists regarded the severance of economic ties to the outside as only a temporary setback. They argued that it would teach self-reliance, that austerity would be good for Palestinians, and that indeed, they had become overdependent on Israeli imports. The Bir Zeit conference heard calls to the bourgeoisie to give up their automobiles and return to the simple village life.

Kabatiya, a village of some 7,000, was cited as an example. It was closed off by the army in late February when a villager suspected of collaborating with the Israelis was lynched. After several weeks of siege, Kabatiya seemed to be going back to premodern self-sufficiency. Deprived of electricity, running water, fuel, fresh food supplies and telephone service, the villagers resorted to the devices of an earlier era. Idle tractors were replaced by donkeys; branches pruned from trees were used instead of kerosene for cooking fuel; many households started small vegetable patches to supplement food smuggled past the Israelis; local wells, long abandoned in favor of piped water, were started up again. Villagers may well hold up under these conditions and show much greater resilience than inhabitants of the larger West Bank towns and cities like Nablus, Ramallah and Jerusalem. There is a limit to the resources available to the tens of thousands of workers from Gaza and the large towns and cities of the West Bank.

For five months of the intifadeh, morale remained high and consensus prevailed. A mythology began to develop around martyrs to the cause, those who were killed, beaten and imprisoned. Many boasted of their capacity to stand up to the Israeli army, to confront the tanks, armored vehicles and helicopters. Much of the humiliation experienced for twenty years gave way to a new sense of personal dignity. But it is still too early to determine how long the 1,750,000 Palestinians under occupation will remain united in the face of economic hardship, growing unemployment and the inevitably mounting Israeli use of force and repressive measures to put down the rebellion.


In Tel Aviv, Haifa or Ramat Gan there is little indication that the intifadeh has affected the daily routines of Jewish Israel. But beneath the surface calm the Palestinian uprising has stirred a political turmoil as serious as any since the state was established. Its repercussions could become as far-reaching as those caused by the wars of 1967, 1973 and 1982. Neither the average Israeli nor his government can take the occupation for granted any longer. Although public opinion has been almost equally divided between those supporting continued Israeli control (either through annexation or maintaining some form of military presence) and those who accept the principle of "land for peace," there still is a broad national consensus against establishment of an independent Palestinian state anywhere between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. That consensus prevails, but has been shaken by events since December. From advocates of outright annexation to the most willing compromisers, there is recognition that the uprising has created a totally new phase in Palestinian-Israeli relations. There are, however, wide differences over how to deal with the situation—differences over short-term tactics for suppressing the revolt, and over how to achieve a long-term political resolution.

The army high command seems to be politically neutral, not outspoken on questions about the future of the territories. It regards the tasks assigned to it by the politicians as unpleasant, but necessary; as required less for national security than to maintain law and order. The commanders acknowledge that they were unprepared to deal with a mass civil uprising but fault the government for lacking clear objectives. Just how fine a balance should be kept between restraint and the use of force? Technically, the IDF is as capable of dealing harshly with civil unrest as was Syria’s Hafez al-Assad in the city of Hama or King Hussein during the 1970 Palestinian uprising in Amman. With sterner measures, the intifadeh could probably have been put down in short order but, as one IDF officer remarked, "the people of Israel would not allow it."

Early on, army intelligence officers whom I met concluded that the uprising was indeed spontaneous, not caused by outside agitators or programmed by PLO directives from abroad. The PLO too was taken by surprise, and had to catch up with events so as not to be left without a role to play. Given the restraints on force imposed by Israel’s own political considerations, a variety of tactics had to be improvised to comply with directives from the politicians. These have included use of live ammunition, rubber bullets, various forms of tear gas, beatings, curfews, mass arrests, occasional deportations, destruction of homes, sieges of unruly villages and various degrees of economic punishment.

In general, Jewish opinion supports the army’s measures, but there are large segments at either end of the political spectrum that are critical. A fairly substantial group, including the new Jewish settlers in the territories, wants all restraints removed; another sector objects that their sons are becoming brutalized by involvement in riot control and suppression of civilians. There is no clear-cut party division on use of these measures, but generally supporters of Likud and parties to the right support the army unconditionally—although on occasion the settlers and their supporters in Israel have criticized the army for being too lenient. At times there have been altercations between the army, charged with maintaining law and order, and militant settlers who have disrupted Arab villages.

Labor Party supporters are less enthusiastic about forcible measures, but they usually agree that the job, although unpleasant, is necessary. Outright opposition to harsh measures comes mainly from the small opposition parties to Labor’s left. There have been a few cases of conscientious objection to military service in the territories. Many more young men, it is believed, fulfill their reserve obligations in the West Bank and Gaza but stand aside, often with officers turning a blind eye, when an unpleasant task such as the beating of stone-throwers is ordered. A number of Israelis drafted for service in the territories have leaked to the press accounts of army brutality they observed firsthand.

The uprising has not yet precipitated any major changes in political party platforms concerning the Palestinians, but there are definite indications of changing attitudes and perceptions to be found in the press, in the Knesset and in the statements of individual political leaders. An increasing willingness to "humanize" the Palestinians is evident, even in the grudging respect paid by field commanders to the courage young Arabs display in their altercations with the troops. Statements like that of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, that the Israelis would crush the Arab rioters "who are grasshoppers compared to us," were dismissed by officers with whom I spoke as empty, foolish rhetoric.

Many Israeli myths previously used to obscure rational analysis of relations with the Arabs are being deflated. This has led to a reevaluation among Israelis of the PLO reality. Arguments about refusing to negotiate with the PLO because it is "terrorist" are more frequently disputed in the press now than before. Several retired generals and mainstream politicians, while not commending the PLO, now hold that it is not merely a terrorist organization but a political one as well, and one with which Israelis may soon have to enter dialogue. Likud’s boycott of the PLO is probably motivated less by repugnance for terrorism than by fear that recognition will imply an acknowledgment of Palestinian political rights.

The intifadeh has dispelled most notions that a liberal or enlightened occupation can be sustained. Hardly any Israeli newspaper or politician boasts any longer of benefits Israel has brought to the occupied territories, as they did just a few months ago. Such arguments now come chiefly from Israel’s supporters abroad. Most Israeli factions have recognized that continued occupation will require harsh, even brutal measures, and that if there ever was an enlightened occupation, its time has passed. Reporting to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee recently, Defense Minister Rabin termed the uprising a continuation of the 1982 war against the PLO in Lebanon, a war that many saw as a strategic mistake. But Prime Minister Shamir, who was one of the architects of that campaign, still regards it as an accomplishment; he characterizes the intifadeh as part of the continuing Arab war "against the existence of the State of Israel," definitely not civil disobedience against the occupation. Consequently, he asserts, the uprising must be fought as would any other war for Israel’s survival.

The uprising has widened more than ever the deep chasm between Israelis who would retain the territories and those willing to give them up. This dispute has been a major political division since the occupation began in 1967, but now partisans of each side have become more adamant. Doves, such as former Foreign Minister Abba Eban, see as more urgent the need for territorial compromises in exchange for peace. The territories are not only a threat to the future security of the Jewish state because of the 1,750,000 Arabs they contain, but because they have become a clear and present danger to Israeli political stability. The intifadeh has stimulated the Labor Party, despite its many internal divisions over the territories, to take a more positive stand in support of peace initiatives, like that of Secretary of State George Shultz and the proposed international Middle East peace conference.

On the other hand, Likud and the parties to its right link the uprising with the peace initiatives, castigating both as part of a conspiracy to end Israel’s very existence. Among right-wing politicians it has again become respectable to discuss "population transfer" as the way out. At a public forum in Tel Aviv during March, former General Rehavam Ze’evi called for investigating this approach, although he admitted that he was not yet sure of its feasibility. Nevertheless, he stated, an "agreed" Arab transfer was "Zionism by definition," the most "humanistic solution to the Palestine problem."

Neither supporters nor opponents of annexation can deny that the uprising has redivided Eretz Israel ("the Land of Israel") along the pre-June 1967 frontiers. For all practical purposes the Green Line (demarcating the 1949 armistice frontiers with Jordan and Egypt), which former Prime Minister Menachem Begin declared in 1977 "no longer exists," has been reconstituted. At the time, Begin declared the line had "vanished forever," so that Israelis could "coexist with the Arabs in Eretz Israel." Now the army frequently reimposes the old barriers, preventing Jews, except settlers with homes there, from crossing to the territories, and noncitizen Palestinians from entering pre-1967 Israel. Even Jerusalem, enthusiastically described by its mayor, Teddy Kollek, as a united city of Jews and Arabs, is no longer united in daily life. For the past several months the former Jordanian sectors have withdrawn into isolation as their Palestinian residents have closed down shops, schools and most public activity. Today few Jews venture into the inhospitable Arab quarters.

The reemerging Green Line has severed many of the economic links with the territories developed during the past twenty years. The economic warfare used by both sides is less disadvantageous to Israelis than to the Palestinians. The most visible manifestation is that many of the 110,000 to 120,000 Arab workers from Gaza and the West Bank no longer report for work in Israel. This hurts most in construction, agriculture and services—industries in which up to 40 percent of the labor force is Arab. In response to the Palestinian boycott and army barriers, the Ministry of Labor now authorizes several Israeli employers to import foreign workers. In some industries experiments have begun with mechanization and automation to replace low-paid Arab workers.

Israeli products worth up to one billion dollars annually, especially textiles, construction materials and food products, were until recently sold in the territories. The Arab boycott has caused a substantial decline in these exports, even closing down some production lines. Israel may suffer temporary recession, but in the long run prospects are that ways will be found to replace Arab labor and West Bank markets. On the Palestinian side there is less flexibility, and consequently greater danger of living standards being lowered and economic development being retarded for a long period.

Israel’s 700,000 Arab citizens have become more directly involved than other Israelis in the crisis. Perhaps it was inevitable that they would be drawn into the confrontation. Most have families in the territories or in surrounding Arab states, and since 1967 they too have been "Palestinianized." Between 1967 and 1987, Israeli Arabs reestablished their links with the Arab world and with the Palestinian consciousness via the West Bank. They gained access to the Arabic press, were exposed to nationalist ideologies, and reunited with former relatives and friends. The psychological and physical barriers that had separated them for a generation gradually disappeared, so it was no wonder that, while loyal to Israel, they also found a new Palestinian identity. Few Jewish Israelis countenance this "dual loyalty," although they still have expectations that non-Israeli Jews will support the Jewish state.

Since December Israeli Arabs have become more outspoken in support of the intifadeh, and on several occasions they have conducted large, peaceful demonstrations to support it. At the end of December and again on Land Day in March a large part of the Israeli Arab community joined general strikes in concert with Palestinians in the territories. At a rally of 20,000 in Nazareth during January, Abdel Wahab Darousha, Labor’s only Arab Knesset member, publicly resigned from the party in protest against Rabin’s policy of "force, might, beatings." These demonstrations of Palestinian national awakening, although tolerated by the Israeli authorities, have become worrisome to the public and have elicited warnings from politicians that Arab citizens should not go too far.

Events in the West Bank and Gaza since December have not caused significant outward changes in Israeli society, but they have raised new questions about policy toward the occupied territories and the peace process, about Arab citizens and Israel’s own humanistic values. The intifadeh has revealed once again that Israel is deeply divided on these issues, so divided that it will be a long time before clear-cut or definitive answers are found. Even if the uprising hastens the next election, scheduled for November, it is unlikely that divisions on these issues will be resolved by the voters.


The intifadeh has drawn international attention to the Palestine problem, from which it had recently been diverted by the Gulf war and tensions in Afghanistan and Central America. Events in the occupied territories have raised the Palestine issue to high priority within the European Community and reactivated the Reagan Administration’s Middle East peace initiatives. During March the European Parliament adopted resolutions critical of Israeli policies in the territories, leading to protests from Jerusalem against European "encouragement" of the PLO. The 12-nation parliament also voted overwhelmingly against ratifying a series of trade agreements with Israel.

The Europeans seem to have become convinced that the Palestinians cannot be bypassed in the search for peace in the Middle East, that they are as essential in negotiations as Arab leaders in Cairo, Amman, Damascus and Riyadh. The era has passed when Palestinians could be regarded as refugees whose fate would be decided by others representing their interests. In my view the "Jordan option," giving the occupied territories some form of self-rule under Hashemite suzerainty, has therefore been recognized as a nonstarter. Neither the Jordanian government nor the Palestinians in the territories any longer perceive King Hussein as a viable interlocutor, nor will the Palestinians any longer agree to rule by a foreign monarch. The small group of notables and merchants who represented Jordanian interests in the territories have been overwhelmed by the recent unrest and they too must go along with demands of the intifadeh or become politically irrelevant.

Although the intifadeh has reawakened the interest of the Reagan Administration in the Arab-Israeli conflict, giving it priority once again in American diplomacy, the U.S. response has been received with little enthusiasm, either by the Palestinians or by Israel’s prime minister. Secretary of State Shultz’ shuttle diplomacy and his new proposals for peace negotiations have elicited only a negative response from leaders of the uprising and from PLO leaders abroad. Palestinian leaders favor an international conference with a mandate to reach a compromise settlement, but only reluctantly accepted Shultz’ complex plan to determine the future of the territories, and provisions it contains that would base negotiations on U.N. resolutions 242 and 338. The chief defect in the plan—a defect that undercuts any value the Palestinians may see in it—is that it seems to circumvent the key issues that have been major objectives of the intifadeh, i.e., immediate termination of Israel’s occupation and an acknowledgment of Palestinian rights to establish their own government, free from outside interference, either Israeli or Jordanian.

Although the Shultz plan does recognize "the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people" and provides for Palestinian participation in negotiations as part of a Jordanian delegation, these "concessions" are no longer as attractive to Arab moderates as they once were. The difficulty is compounded by the refusal of mainstream Israelis, hawks or doves, to accept an independent Palestinian state in any form.

It is this impasse that the Shultz plan circumvents, but until the issue is confronted, the intifadeh is not likely to be quelled for good. And while conflict between Israel and the Palestinians lasts, there is little hope of achieving the settlement envisaged in the new Shultz plan.

The net result of these events is re-Palestinianization of a conflict which began in the 1920s and 1930s as a struggle between Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Arabs. After establishment of Israel in 1948 the conflict was internationalized, between Israel and the neighboring Arab states. Since December the action has again centered in Palestine itself, between the two peoples most directly involved in struggle for control of the country.

A major Israeli theme has been that peace is elusive because "there is no one to talk to." But even if Arab regimes refuse direct negotiation, the intifadeh has made clear that Palestinians are the more important partner in any settlement. Should Israel achieve agreements with other Arab states, like the peace treaty with Egypt, these will do little to end the conflict within Palestine. The intifadeh demonstrates such agreements will most likely have little effect on relations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Unfortunately the intifadeh also indicates that Palestinian-Israeli relations are at an impasse. The minimum that the inhabitants of the territories are now willing to accept is full self-determination and total withdrawal by Israel, demands that no mainstream Israeli party or political leader will concede. Fewer than 15 percent of Knesset members consider these valid negotiating points. Nor has the Israeli public overcome its fear of an independent Palestinian state. While demonstrating Palestinian determination and courage, the intifadeh has also deepened Israeli apprehensions about whether an independent Palestine would remain a peaceful neighbor.

The uprising has intensified the contest of wills between Israelis and Palestinians, a contest in which Israel holds overwhelming military and economic advantages. Many Israelis are willing to take all risks necessary to test Palestinian determination, believing that Israel can hold out longer, that Palestinian solidarity will crumble as it did in the past. Palestinians who see beyond the euphoria sparked by the intifadeh acknowledge that much more difficult times are ahead, that December 1987 may have been a Palestinian version of the 1916 "Easter Rising," a revolt which opened a struggle that lasted years before its goals were approached.

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  • DON PERETZ is Director of the Middle East Program at the State University of New York, Binghamton, where he has been Professor of Political Science since 1966. His most recent book is The West Bank: History, Politics, Society, and Economy.
  • More By Don Peretz