How Israel Should Handle a Third Intifada. Opinion

A Palestinian uprising in the West Bank city of Hebron on the 13th anniversary of the second Intifada (Photo: AP)

The first intifada started in 1987 and lasted until 1993, and the second occurred from 2000 to 2005. 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 the Jewish State. However, 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, however, Hamas rules the Gaza Strip. Israel continues with its siege on the Gaza Strip, but it is because of Hamas, who refuses to recognize Israel and strives to fight and destroy it. 

Lately, there have been signs that the Palestinian Authority might regain control of the Gaza Strip but there is a long way to go before this happens. Meanwhile, Hamas continues to prepare for another round against Israel in Gaza. 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. This is likely to be the case in the next war in Gaza as well.

Israel has a lot of influence on the PA, including the right to send its forces to the West Bank, but the Palestinians there are largely ruled by their own people. However, as was the case 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 them.

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 since the PA, at least for now, still supports negotiations with Jewish State. Therefore, Israel might continue to need the PA, even if there is a third intifada, as a lesser of two evils.

There has been ongoing cooperation between Israeli security forces and their Palestinian counterparts. The latter must prevent friction between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli troops, during a third intifada. However, the Palestinian security units might stand aside, or even worse – join the fight against Israel while exploiting their combat skills and weapons for that purpose.

The third intifada might start as a popular uprising, similarly to the one that began in 1987. Israel should try to contain the tiny minority who will try to harm Israelis. Most of the Palestinian population should be allowed to go on with their daily routine, in spite, or 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 somewhere between dozens to thousands of Palestinians. As they did in the first intifada, Israeli forces will use nonlethal measures such as rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse those who will throw stones and firebombs. The IDF should avoid using live fire because if the Palestinians perceive they have suffered too many casualties, they could quickly escalate the protests.

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 or other Israelis are in danger.

In the third intifada, as in the previous ones, Israeli soldiers will have to perform police-like operations (i.e., arrests, patrols, etc.). These troops will return to fulfill their original task if they encounter gunmen carrying light arms, let alone rockets, anti-tank weapons, or IEDs.

A third intifada is not unavoidable, but it could be brought to an end in a matter of months or maybe even less. This will require Israel to focus on the Palestinians who will lead, organize, and participate in the fight, leaving the majority of the Palestinians out of the confrontation.