The recent clashes in Judea and Samaria have not grabbed the headlines. The recent escalation has been reported alongside various crime stories or other unrelated news. The impression one gets from reading the paper is that we are not in the midst of any major flare-up, with terrorist attacks left and right.
The fact of the matter is that the storm has already arrived. Not a day goes by without violent incidents between the IDF and Palestinian mobs, or without some raid in a Palestinian village turning into a battlefield, with hundreds of residents clashing with troops.
Not a day goes by without some stabbing attack or ramming incident, and there has also been a spike in the number of Palestinian casualties, with each death fueling tensions even further. Jenin, the capital of terrorism, may be the main hotspot, but the Jordan Valley recently became a flashpoint, as has the Binyamin region. Nablus, Hebron and the Jerusalem area (including its Arab neighborhoods) have all seen daily occurrences of violence. In other words, Judea and Samaria is on fire.
Some have tried to explain this development as the result of the Palestinian Authority’s gradual demise, or at least the twilight of its 87-year-old president, Mahmoud Abbas. The P.A. and Abbas are weak and lack the will to impose order in the areas they control, but the future will be worse because those who replace Abbas won’t have the same legitimacy he has enjoyed as Yasser Arafat’s right-hand man. The rise in violence can also be attributed to the tailwind the Palestinians have received from those who are supposed to be Israel’s allies and usually support Israel’s right to defend itself.
For example, the criticism Israel has come under over the killing of Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, and the ongoing public rebuke over its rules of engagement, have been interpreted by Palestinians as a vindication of the path of violence.
But what is important is how you stop this trickling of violence from becoming a massive flood.
No one anticipated the first two intifadas (Palestinian uprisings), because they erupted somewhat spontaneously and gradually without someone orchestrating it from the top down, not in Tunisia in the 1980s and not in Ramallah in the early 2000s. The masses were the ones who led the violence, facing an unprepared Israel that failed to respond on time and even lost control for a while.
The result was the First Intifada, which led to the Oslo Accords, and then the Second Intifada, which produced the 2005 Disengagement Plan that had Israel withdraw from Gaza and northern Samaria. Those two moves still exact a price to this very day. Apart from this, we must remember that the entire Zionist story and the fight over this land is a story of bouts of violence that appear and fade, only to reappear.
Total calm is something our generation is unlikely to see. Israel has recently marked 55 years of holding Judea and Samaria, a period much greater than that of the British Mandate and the Jordanian occupation combined. Many view the status quo as the lesser of two evils because it allows Israel to hold on to the territory without facing a diplomatic backlash on the world stage.
But there comes a point where the disadvantages of the status quo exceed its benefits. At such a point, it is imperative to think outside the box in order to effect change. The Palestinians, despite not admitting as much, would prefer to become Israeli citizens, despite this not being in Israel’s interest at this point. Regardless of the situation, Israel should counter this wave of terrorism with all its force before it becomes a full-fledged uprising, and keep its finger on the pulse so that it gets a proper indication of when the status quo is no longer in effect.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.