The Palestinian Intifada: Lessons and Prospects

–The major innovation in Palestinian tactics in the second intifada has been the extensive use of suicide bombers, a kind of precision-guided “smart” munition. Hundreds of such bombers, among them women and children, have been launched and have proved to be quite effective. In fact, while suicide bombings have constituted less than 1% of all Palestinian armed attacks, they have been responsible for more than 50% of all Israeli fatalities.

–Was the intifada an instrument of a deliberate Palestinian policy to discard the pre-Oslo commitment of Arafat to Prime Minister Rabin to settle “all outstanding issues” through peaceful means? From the outset, Arafat made no secret of his view that the uprising could be used to advance Palestinian political goals. In this sense, the intifada was in large measure a top-down phenomenon.

–Among Israelis, the number of deaths recently passed 1,000. More civilians have been killed due to hostile action during the current intifada than the combined number of civilians killed by terrorism, war, and other hostile action in all the previous years of Israel’s existence.

–Among most Palestinians the use of violence as a political tool remains both popular and legitimate; a sizable percentage believes that anti-Israel violence was the main cause of Israel’s decision to withdraw from Gaza. At the same time, there is growing internal criticism of the use of suicide bombers, voiced initially by former prime minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). However, the internal Palestinian debate is not about the ethical dimension of using terror but about its usefulness in promoting the Palestinian cause.

–One unmistakable outcome of the intifada has been the shrinking of Arafat’s standing in both Palestinian politics and on the world stage. An increasing number of Palestinians conclude that he is no longer part of the Palestinian solution but rather a major part of the problem.

–For Iran and Hizballah, the situation inside the West Bank and Gaza offers a golden opportunity to exercise their “jihadist” identity and beliefs, especially at a time when circumstances compel Hizballah to restrain itself on the Israeli-Lebanese front. According to official Israeli data, Hizballah is currently operating 45 terrorist cells in the West Bank and Gaza, providing funding, know-how, instructions, and operational guidelines. These cells are responsible for about 25% of all Israeli casualties since the beginning of 2004. Hence, efforts to stabilize the situation on the Palestinian front will require dealing with both the internal and the external sources of instability.

The Palestinian Intifada: Lessons and Prospects – Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

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