BY EHUD EILAM
SENIOR FELLOW AT THE LONDON CENTER FOR POLICY RESEARCH
The first intifada started in 1987 and lasted until 1993. In 2000-2005 the second intifada occurred. Following the recent unrest in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip Israel should try to prevent the third intifada by taking steps to reduce the Palestinian motivation to confront Israel. Yet this might not be enough and a third intifada might erupt. In such a case Israel will strive to end this confrontation as soon as possible by implementing lessons from previous clashes.
The first intifada is considered by the Palestinians to be an uprising, a struggle for national liberation. It took place in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip which were then under Israeli control. Now Hamas rules all the Gaza Strip. Israel continues with its siege on the Gaza Strip but it is because of Hamas. The latter not only refuses to recognize Israel but the group also strives to fight and destroy it.
Lately there have been signs that the PA might regain the Gaza Strip but there is a long way to go before this happens. Hamas, in the Gaza Strip, has been continuing to prepare for another round against Israel. The previous clashes between the two sides, in 2008-2009, 2012 and 2014, were not called an intifada although Hamas tried to present them as a war for national liberation. The same will be if there is another war in the Gaza Strip.
The PA is a kind of an entity. Israel has a lot of influence on the PA, including the right to send its forces there, but the Palestinians there are to a large extent ruled by their own people. However, as in the first intifada, the third one could also be seen not as a confrontation between Israel and a Palestinian entity but as a Palestinian uprising to get rid of the Israeli grip on the Palestinians.
If the third Intifada gets out of control, Israel might reoccupy large parts and even all of the West Bank. It could be the end of the PA, and this will serve Hamas. More and more Palestinians might be convinced that Hamas is the main political alternative to the PA. It means choosing an armed conflict with Israel while the PA, at least for now, still supports negotiations with Israel. Israel therefore, even if there is a third intifada, might continue to need the PA, as a lesser of two evils.
There has been an ongoing cooperation between Israeli security forces and their Palestinian counterparts. The latter must prevent a friction between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli troops, during a third intifada. Yet the Palestinian security units might stand from the side and in the worst case to join the fight against Israel, exploiting their combat skills and weapons for that purpose.
The third intifada, as the first one, might start as a popular uprising. Israel should try to contain the tiny minority among the Palestinians, those who will try to harm Israelis. Most of the Palestinian population should be allowed to go on with their daily routine, in spite and actually because of the riots and the attacks against Israelis. If Israel succeeds in doing that it could prevent a severe deterioration. Furthermore, such an approach might over time reduce and hopefully bring an end to the third intifada.
The third intifada could start with a series of demonstrations, which will include from dozens to thousands of Palestinians. As in the first intifada in the third one as well the IDF will use non-lethal measures such as rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse those who will throw stones and fire bombs. The IDF should avoid using live fire since if Palestinians absorb casualties that will be seen by them as too much it could bring a rapid escalation. Violent demonstrations are bad enough. Israel does not seek an armed conflict, one that will look like the second intifada, which cost the lives of more than a 1,000 Israelis. However, in some cases soldiers might open fire because they will feel that they/other Israelis are in danger.
In the third intifada, as in the previous ones, Israeli troops like those from the infantry and the armor corps will have to preform like police i.e. to make arrests, run patrols etc. The Israeli soldiers will return to fulfill their original task if they encounter gunmen with light arms let alone missile and rockets like anti-tank weapons, IED etc.
All in all, a third intifada is not unavoidable and if it starts it could be brought to its end, in a matter of months and maybe even in less than that. This will require Israel to focus on Palestinians who will lead, organize and participate in the fight while leaving most of the Palestinians out of that confrontation.