What’s Behind the Latest Israeli-Palestinian Violence
Josh Siegel /
A new surge in Palestinian-Israeli attacks is drawing international attention because of its uniqueness.
Since the Jewish high holidays, young Palestinians unaffiliated with any formal political movement—many using knives and inspired by social media—have carried out attacks at a near daily rate.
But while the violence, which has also included retaliatory attacks by Israeli authorities, has taken on a different character from past uprisings against Israel, some experts see striking familiarity in an ongoing dispute.
“I do think there are differences, but I don’t think it’s unique,” said Jeremy Pressman, a professor at the University of Connecticut who studies the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
“Some of the details may change, but the struggles are the same. This is just another feature of a recurring struggle over the same territory.”
Though the violence may be just another notch in the Israeli-Arab conflict, the latest attacks have some fearing a third Palestinian “intifada,” or uprising, against Israel.
In response, the Israeli military Wednesday deployed hundreds of troops in Israeli cities to assist the police in repelling the attacks, ordering them to patrol public transportation.
According to the New York Times, after an emergency meeting of Israel’s security cabinet on Tuesday night, the government ordered roadblocks and checkpoints in some Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem and approved measures to make it easier for civilians to obtain gun permits.
The violence originated in east Jerusalem and the West Bank—territories Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war and claimed by the Palestinians for a future state—but has since spread to Israeli cities.
According to the Associated Press, eight Israelis have died from the violence, which has also included shootings and stonings, while 29 Palestinians—including 12 identified by Israel as attackers—have been killed.
The Palestinians’ rallying cry has been over a contested religious site called Al-Aqsa, a mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City where only Muslims can pray.
Palestinian leaders insist that Israel wants to challenge the status quo at the mosque, despite denials from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In addition, Palestinians are frustrated by Israeli settlement construction.
Though experts interviewed by The Daily Signal do not expect another intifada (the second, more recent one was defined by suicide bombings organized by militant groups), they see the current violence as having evolved from previous uprisings.
“Part of why you are seeing young people doing this, and not taking the usual means to do it, speaks to some effective Israeli countermeasures to the second intifada,” Pressman told The Daily Signal.
Since 2003, Israel has built a steel and concrete barrier blocking most of the Israeli-occupied West Bank from Israel and east Jerusalem. The Israeli military and Palestinian Authority have also increased security cooperation in the West Bank, Pressman said.
“This is why past techniques are harder to accomplish,” Pressman said. “Innovation is a mark not just of this conflict, but of any conflict.”
Grant Rumley, a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, also doesn’t expect another intifada, but he has different reasons.
Calling the likelihood of another uprising “roughly the same as it is on any other day in this blood-soaked conflict,” Rumley blames an ongoing “rivalry” between Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction and Hamas for the violence.
Hamas is a militant group that controls the Gaza Strip.
The two parties formed a unity government last year that has since been dismantled.
Hamas and other militant Islamist groups are responsible for some of the social media campaigns inciting violence, the New York Times reports.
“There’s been this intra-Palestinian rivalry between Hamas and Fatah, a bloody competition of one-upmanship where both sides try to outdo the other,” Rumley said.
Jim Phillips, an expert on the Middle East at The Heritage Foundation, similarly sees the Hamas-Fatah dispute underlying the violence.
“Hamas has gained strength in the West Bank and would probably overthrow the Palestinian Authority, if it wasn’t backed up by Israel,” Phillips said.
On Wednesday, the White House said Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to the region soon to help settle the conflict.
Israeli news outlets reported that Kerry will moderate a discussion in Jordan between Abbas and Netanyahu.
Experts welcomed Kerry’s diplomatic outreach but expected the conversation to be limited to the current conflict and not wider peace talks.
Kerry last tried to broker peace talks in 2014, but that effort failed.
“I wouldn’t hold my breath for this to inspire peace talks,” Rumley said. “It might be on Kerry’s mind, but I expect the focus on all parties to be on how to decrease the violence. There is serious distrust and peace talk fatigue on both sides.”
Pressman is holding out for a more enduring solution, but he’s realistic about it.
“I don’t think each side believes the other is serious about negotiations,” Pressman said.
“I’ll be interested to see how Kerry handles these meetings. It’s a tremendously sad situation. The words that all come to mind—hopeless, despair, sadness—aren’t going anywhere. It’s a tough situation, and I hope, whether it’s political leaders or civil society leaders, someone can stop the flow of violence.”