The shootings, stabbings and car attacks in Israel in the fall of 2015 have led several media pundits and politicians to wonder whether the beginning of the Third Intifada has begun. This Palestinian intifada is against their own leaders as much as it is against Israel, and to miss that point is to miss the core issues and solutions before the parties.
Murder in Synagogue in Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem
November 2014 (photo: Israel Government Press Office)
First Intifada against Israel (1987-1993)
The First Intifada, which began in 1987, was launched by Palestinian Arabs who were angry about the lack of movement towards a creating a Palestinian state. The multi-year attacks killed thousands of people, and not just in Palestinians-versus-Israelis attacks. An estimated 1,000 Arabs who were suspected of collaborating with Israel were also killed by fellow Palestinian Arabs.
The First Intifada continued until the Oslo Accords of 1993 which started a timetable for a negotiated agreement between the parties. It was the first time that the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) formally recognized each other. Counter to popular belief, the agreement did NOT call for the creation of a Palestinian state, but was crafted to transition Palestinians to self-rule (for example, a solution like American Indian reservations would have met the stipulations in the Oslo Accords) to commence within five years.
Transition (1993-2000). Between 1993 and 2000, the leadership of Israel and Palestinian Arabs attempted to arrive at a peace treaty and settle all key issues including matters of boundaries, security and the status of the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants. During this time there were still hundreds of attacks against Israelis with almost 100 Israelis killed. While the world may have considered the First Intifada to have concluded with Oslo, for Israelis, the murder and mayhem never stopped.
Second Intifada (September 2000-September 2014)
“No Compromise Intifada”
The Second Intifada broke out in September 2000 when it became clear that the Palestinians were not going to get everything that they demanded: a new country based on land that was controlled by Egypt and Jordan which was taken by Israel in 1967; the eastern half of Jerusalem as their capital; and a right of return to Israel for all Palestinian Arab refugees and their descendants.
Intifada 2A: Arafat’s War (2000-2005). Angry at the terms that he negotiated with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak with the assistance of US President Bill Clinton, Yasser Arafat (1929-2004) launched a multi-year war against Israelis. Bombs blew up buses and pizza parlors. Arabs shot at cars and schools. Thousands of Israelis – most of them civilians – were murdered by Palestinians, and thousands of Palestinian Arabs were killed in efforts to put down the intifada.
Transition (November 2004-2008). The first wave of the Second Intifada ended when several notable things occurred:
- Yasser Arafat (fungus be upon him) died in November 2004.
- Israel largely completed a security barrier to stop Palestinian Arab attackers from entering Israel from the west bank of the Jordan River.
- Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip (2005).
- Palestinian Arabs held presidential elections, voting for Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas in 2005.
- In 2006, Palestinians held Parliamentary elections and voted for Hamas, a more radical party that called for Israel’s destruction that is considered a terrorist organization by many countries including the US and Israel.
- In 2007, Fatah and Hamas fought bitter battles against each other and Hamas evicted Fatah from Gaza and seized authority there.
- With the Hamas takeover over Gaza, Israel put in place a naval blockade (and later a land blockade) to stop weapons from flowing to Hamas.
Intifada 2B: The Divided Intifada (2008-2014). By 2007, the Palestinian Arabs were deeply divided with Hamas controlling Gaza, and Fatah ruling in the West Bank. Each party had different stated goals and approaches to their conflict with Israel.
Hamas’s Violent War of Destruction: Hamas did not want a two-state solution and sought the complete destruction of Israel through armed conflict. Fighting from a defined region in Gaza and using missiles (as opposed to street attacks) the Hamas fight appeared more akin to a war. Indeed, the press referred to the 2008, 2012 and 2014 battles as distinct wars between Gaza/ Hamas (not Palestinians generally) and Israel. Israel referred to its defensive operations as Operation Cast Lead; Operation Pillar of Defense, and Operation Protective Edge, respectively. These three “wars” were a continuation of Hamas’s fight to destroy Israel, described clearly in its 1988 Hamas Charter.
Abbas’s Political War of Demands: In the West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas and the world courted each other. Abbas kept the Palestinian Arab masses out of Hamas’s massive attacks against Israelis and thereby portrayed himself as a moderate. In turn, many countries assured Abbas that he would achieve all of his demands that fell short in the 2000 peace talks, through diplomatic means. US President Obama made Abbas comfortable that Israel’s biggest ally (the US) would pressure Israel into conceding to all Palestinian demands: Obama pushed for a settlement freeze in 2009; in 2011 he said that borders would “be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps,”; he stripped all Israel-leaning positions from the 2012 Democratic platform, including that there would not be a “right of return” of Palestinian refugees to Israel; he even said that Jews moving into existing homes they legally purchased in the eastern part of Jerusalem was a “provocation” in 2014.
The world similarly gave Abbas encouragement. They admitted Palestine to UNESCO in 2011, and many countries began to recognize Palestine as a country, even though it had yet to negotiate borders and security with Israel. Abbas’s moves in the political sphere to secure all of his demands were seemingly gaining traction.
Palestinians Intifada against Everyone
(October 2014- )
The “Third Intifada” began at the end of Operation Protective Edge with a few events. It resembled prior intifadas because the attacks were between Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews in the streets, but the nature of the intifada was quite different than the ones in the past. Whereas the first intifada was Palestinians-versus-Israel and the second intifada was Palestinian leadership-versus-Israel, the third intifada is Palestinians-against-everyone.
The start of the Intifada against Everyone: Acting-President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas kept the West Bank Arabs out of the Gaza/ Hamas War of Destruction based on the promise that the Palestinians would be able to achieve their goals that they failed to achieve in 2000 through diplomacy. However, the Palestinians had only won empty victories of recognition at UNESCO and were no further along in achieving a state. In the fall of 2014, several matters came to boil:
- Anger at the destruction in Gaza. Over 2000 Palestinians were killed in the summer of 2014 and the attacks against Israel yielded nothing.
- Anger at not being part of the Fight. The West Bank mainly stayed out of the fight, even though many people supported Hamas’s war against Israel.
- Anger at Jewish advocacy on the Temple Mount. In October 2014, Rabbi Yehuda Glick continued to advocate for the right of Jews to pray at their holiest location. Radical Islamists shot Glick several times, though he survived the attack. The assailants were killed and Abbas praised them as “martyrs.”
- Anger at being banned from the Temple Mount. In response to the attempted assassination of Glick, Israel closed the Temple Mount to all visitors. This further enraged Arabs both at being banned from their third holiest site, and the stark realization that Israel had control of the Temple Mount.
- Anger at not moving forward on Statehood. For all of Abbas’s promises that the world would force Israel to accede to all Palestinian demands, the year 2014 which was hailed as the “International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People” was going to end with nothing. Abbas could not even get Netanyahu to release all of the prisoners that they had expected to be released.
- Anger at Palestinian leadership. Both Fatah and Hamas failed to deliver positive results for Palestinians. They were viewed as corrupt by the vast majority of Palestinians, and the two parties could not even reconcile to coordinate a cohesive single ruling authority. Both Palestinian leaderships were failures by every measure, but no new elections were on the horizon even though the Palestinian Arabs hadn’t voted since 2006.
- Anger at Arab States. Egypt changed leadership to General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in 2013, but it was in 2014 that Egypt began to shut down the border between Gaza and Egypt, crippling the Gaza economy (and arms flow). Foreign supporters like Qatar which pledged money to rebuild Gaza were unable to do so because of legal hurdles.
- Anger at the United States. While US President Obama and Secretary of State were effective in pushing Israel, the limits became apparent when they could not get Israel to release the fourth batch of prisoners in 2014. How could the US then force Israel to move forward with all of its greater demands?
- Anger at themselves. The world took to the streets during the summer of 2014, largely condemning Israel for the war from Gaza. Yet the EGL Arabs (Arabs living east of the Green Line) were relatively quiet. They watched global protests while they didn’t protest. They witnessed fellow Palestinian Arabs fighting and dying in Gaza while they didn’t fight.
- Anger at the world. For all of the waiting and promises from the US and the world to pressure Israel to deliver Palestinian demands, it became clear that such a path would not yield everything the Palestinians sought. Palestinians realized that the world would not impose their demands on Israel.
The Start of Attacks: While Hamas was behind the abduction and murder of three Israeli teens in Judea in June 2014, the “lone wolf” EGL Palestinians began to attack Israeli civilians in the streets and synagogues in October.
- Car attacks rammed people in Jerusalem (October 2014)
- Mahmoud Abbas called for Palestinians to defend Al Aqsa (October)
- An attempted assassination of Yehuda Glick (October)
- Car attacks and stabbings in Gush Etzion (November)
- Arabs hacked Jewish worshippers to death in a synagogue in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof (November)
- Various other attacks and calls for a “car intifada”
The Anger-at-Everyone Intifada was underway.
Yet to understand the spike in the current wave of attacks in the fall of 2015, requires an appreciation that the end of the Palestinian Authority is at hand.
The 2015 Collapse of the Palestinian Authority and Oslo. As described above, Abbas has remained unpopular since 2006. He remains a puppet in the eleventh year of a four-year term. He is old – 80 as of March. And the old, ineffective, unpopular Abbas is only part of the story. The Palestinian Authority is collapsing.
1.Impending PA Bankruptcy. The PA was never particularly well-funded. The PA suffered from several serious flaws even before the current crisis: large scale corruption and theft by PA leadership, and a reliance on Israel to collect and submit taxes on the PA’s behalf. In 2015, new problems emerged:
- In February 2015, the PA lost a court case in the United States filed by Shurat HaDin on behalf of Americans killed in the Second Intifada. The court awarded the victims of terrorism $655.5 million. The verdict would likely have spelled the end of the PA so US Secretary of State John Kerry came to the PA rescue in August and had the PA post only a $10 million bond while the case is appealed. The case will be heard March 2016, and the PA will likely lose and declare bankruptcy.
- In June 2014, in the wake of a possible reconciliation government between Fatah and Hamas, the US Congress threatened to withhold funding of the PA since Hamas is a designated terrorist organization. Obama voted to overrule Congress. The 2014 Gaza War started soon thereafter so the Palestinian reconciliation government has been slow to take form. But the impact of the US cutting funding lingers of the PA.
2. Hamas Funding. While the PA sits on the brink of bankruptcy and Hamas sits without funds or infrastructure, a game-changing event happened in July 2015. The world powers agreed to allow Iran to run a curtailed nuclear program in exchange for releasing up to $150 billion. There were no constraints to how Iran could use the money and it has made no secret of its desire to erase Israel from the map. Iran has had a long-term relationship with Hizbullah in Lebanon, and the release of these funds could provide a huge windfall for Hamas, particularly if the world softens the Israeli blockade on Gaza.
3. Goodbye Obama. Good night Ban Ki-Moon. The best chance Abbas had for imposing the 2000 Palestinian demands on Israel were through the United Nations and the United States. Both US President Barack Obama and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon were strong advocates for the Palestinian cause. Each one consistently berated Israel and tried to force it to accept Palestinian terms. However, while their rhetoric was powerful, the heavy-handed approach to Israel did not yield the Palestinians promise. Ban Ki-Moon’s term at the UN expires December 2016 and Barack Obama’s term expires January 2017. It is hard to imagine that a new US president or SG of the UN will be as anti-Israel as the parties Abbas had working for him.
So Abbas took the podium at the United Nations in September 2015 and essentially announced that the Oslo Accords were dead. He knew that he was done and the Palestinians were done with him. He could not imagine that a PA facing bankruptcy while Hamas gained Iranian funds would keep his straw-man position propped up any longer. He left open the possibility that the lame ducks Obama and Ki-Moon might save him, but he knew his game was basically over.
The Rise of Intifada-against-Everyone. The Palestinians celebrate the end of the PA. In addition to its corruption, they viewed the Authority as a tool of the Israeli government to suppress violence. The EGL Arabs sat out the Divided Intifada because of the PA, and there was no honor in that. With the closing of the PA, it could pick up its part of the Divided Intifada, and perhaps do it with money and weapons from Iran.
In time, it may even have a nuclear-powered sponsor to enforce its demands.
For now, the Palestinians arm themselves with encouragement on social media like Facebook and Twitter. They share videos of how to stab and attack Israelis and selections from videos of Israelis attacking Arabs. They come to the streets armed with knives, rocks and Molotov cocktails all around Israel and Judea and Samaria, looking for Jews to attack.
While the anger is at everyone, for now the attacks are limited to Jews. As the Palestinian Authority truly collapses and the Iran deal either collapses or is implemented, the attacks will likely expand to other groups in other locations.
The Temple Mount / Al Aqsa. World focus is now on security at the Temple Mount. Indeed the rights of Jews on the Mount was seen by many as the excuse for starting the second intifada so parties are eager to calm the situation there. A narrow focus on Jewish rights and access is a small part of the bigger picture.
Ending Incitement. World leaders have urged parties to refrain from incitement, even while they barely berate Mahmoud Abbas’s calls for jihad. While such calls for calm are appropriate, they also confuse the source of the anger. Palestinians have doubled their use of daily social media over the past 18 months according to polls. They do not wait for Abbas or Ma’an to tell them what is news or how to kill.
Compromise. The core issue can only be addressed when the global community states very clearly that the Palestinians must compromise. They will not get everything they hope for nor will they even get everything within each core issue that they seek.
Obama thought that the old ways of supporting Israeli positions did not yield peace so he threw out that method and ran his presidency on being a bully to Israel. But an Israel that feels threatened and insecure – despite Obama’s security cooperation – will not be in a position to conclude a deal with Palestinian Arabs.
The even bigger obstacle than the Obama administration has been the United Nations which has taken to every Palestinian position and encouraged them to believe that there is no need to compromise on their aspirations. That is a fatal flaw.
The UN must state clearly that the path to two states does not rely on negotiations but on compromise. A new Palestinian state will not come to being on “1967 borders.” All of East Jerusalem will not be the capital of such state. A total of 5 million refugees and their descendants will not move to Israel. The UN must stop encouraging these fantasies.
The first and easiest step to move towards a final resolution between the parties is to unravel the refugee mess that the United Nations promotes. The UN should make clear:
- While the UN will continue to provide services to 5 million refugees and their descendants in the near-term, the only people that could be entitled to go to Israel under a “right of return” as defined in UN Resolution 194 are actual refugees. It will be up to Israel to allow any additional people enter the country.
- Any refugee re-entering Israel must abide by the language of Resolution 194 which states that that they are willing to “live at peace“, and follow Israel’s guidelines for affirming such which may include acknowledging that Israel is a Jewish State.
If the UN and US really care about avoiding a third intifada and resolving the Israel-Palestinian Arab conflict, it must move past the smaller issues of focusing on incitement to the bigger picture of publicly stating that Arabs must compromise on their stated demands to resolve the conflict. To date, Obama and Ki-Moon have encouraged the same unrealistic Palestinian expectations, and with it, the anger of the Palestinians for not delivering on an unrealistic goal.
The second intifada was against Israel for not meeting Palestinians demands, and the third intifada against everyone is about the world’s failure to enforce those demands. It is time for an honest conversation – publicly – about those very demands, to avoid more bloodshed and to end the conflict.
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