There is some debate whether or not we are witnessing a new intifada, a new uprising. The reality is that we are definitely witnessing an attempt by Hamas to produce one. Today, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, stated:
We are calling for the strengthening and increasing of the intifada… It is the only path that will lead to liberation.
Past efforts have begun with arming militants on the Temple Mount with rocks, incendiaries, and explosives. During the past few weeks of clashes, Israeli security forces have discovered attempts to arm protesters on the Temple Mount and have even discovered pipe bombs prepared for use there.
Additionally, the rhetoric associated with the last intifada, namely that Israel is trying to take over the Temple Mount, is being used by Palestinian leaders as a way to stir up protests. There is no effort by Israel to change the status-quo of the site, but the Palestinian leadership has been insisting that there is, something that has been done in the past to promote protests against Israel and remains an effective way to do so around the region.
Hamas, severely weakened by the sealing of the Egypt-Gaza border by a hostile Egyptian government, desperately needs Palestinians in the West Bank to engage in an intifada in order to change the dynamic on the ground. There has been little ongoing violent action against Israel and diplomatic channels have failed to produce the necessary pressure on Israel to bring them about.
Furthermore, with Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia all essentially working with Israel on the three major issues facing the region (The Syrian Civil War, The Islamic State, and Iran), the Palestinian cause has been largely ignored by those whom the Palestinians desperately need to fight for them in order to make any headway against Israel, much less to ultimately destroy the Jewish state.
Palestinian Pres. Abbas’ recent warnings about the possibility of an intifada have also been attempts to promote one by giving voice and support to those who have been seeking to once again resort to violence. This has put the ball squarely into Hamas’ ready and waiting hands along with those of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the militant branch of Abbas’ own Fatah party, and Islamic Jihad.
But this is a dangerous game. Pres. Abbas wants to draw the world’s attention to his cause and to demonstrate his ability to stop violence while maintaining control over the West Bank. It is important for Abbas to be able to show that there is a realistic threat of violence in the West Bank for which security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority at an extensive level is required and that therefore Israeli concessions to the Palestinians are also necessary.
Thus, violence and protests are essential to Abbas’ cause, but not a full scale intifada which would be difficult to control and dangerous for Abbas and his associates specifically.
The problems that those who want to get a new intifada going face numerous issues:
Gaza based Hamas, which is definitely the most dangerous to Israel of the three organizations at the moment, is not in a good position to help. The Egyptian border is much more tightly controlled now than at any point in time since 1967.
The most likely goal of any current Hamas led attempt at an intifada right now would be the unseating of the Fatah led government in the West Bank rather than accomplishing anything significant against Israel in the long term or to alter Egypt’s defensive posture against Gaza. Pres. Abbas needs to be very careful about how much he allows this violence to strengthen.
Hamas is not Pres. Abbas’ only problem. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a wing of Fatah, which has been largely silent for a number of years may either be ready to have Pres. Abbas and Fatah abandon the solely diplomatic tack of Palestinian efforts in recent years or they too may be emboldened to engage in violence in an attempt to take control of Fatah and with it leadership over the West Bank.
Meanwhile, Islamic Jihad will no doubt have been strengthened because of the nuclear and financial agreement with its patron state of Iran. Islamic Jihad could be seeking to aid Hamas or the Al Aqsa Martyrs in efforts to harm Israel. But without a doubt, Iran would prefer to see Hamas, with whom it has worked in the past, take over the leadership of the Palestinian cause.
Thus far, President Abbas’ response to the recent attacks has been to blame Israel and to appear somewhat supportive of both the terrorists and protests. However, should the attacks and protests rage out of control, not only is there a likelihood of Israeli incursions into the West Bank, but of the very destabilization that these militant groups seek in hoping to remove Abbas from power.
This week, Abbas began to realize the danger that he faces from within and has issued calls to his forces to urgently quell protests. While the public explanation is to “deny Israel a pretext for a West Bank crackdown,” the reality is that the greater danger is to his own rule in the West Bank with or without any Israeli incursions. It does not take a genius to realize that the reason for protests is a failure of the current Palestinian leadership in their efforts to overcome Israel and to reclaim, in the least, rule over Jerusalem as well as to end the occupation of the West Bank. Should protests grow, it would be all too easy for them to rapidly turn against the failed leadership of Fatah.
In the meantime, the Palestinian leadership, both Hamas and Fatah, are encouraging violence against Israeli civilians, something which should be condemned in the strongest terms and because of which US and European cooperation and support for the Palestinian leadership should be brought into question.