A Fertile Environment for a Third Intifada

  • Posted on: 21 July 2016

The contemporary Palestinian political history shows that defeat and political failures had a huge effect on the Palestinian political identity, and public reactions. The Islamic factor in Palestinian politics developed in a relatively sudden and dramatic manner. For more than forty years Palestinian political movements consisted of secular groups, all represented by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), These groups initially came into being as a result of the creation of the state of Israel in 1947, the expulsion of Palestinians from their lands and the failure of the Arab states to either maintain, or win, against Israel, signalling the failure of Arabism. The groups were further enhanced by the violence of the

Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the 1960’s. These secular groups played a pivotal role in the creation of the Palestinian national identity and were perceived by Palestinians to be the focus of the Palestinian national struggle against occupation.

From the mid 1980’s however, a combination of events facilitated the growth of the Islamic political movements in Palestinian society, particularly in the growth of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brothers movement. The key catalysts in this growth were the first Intifada in December 1987, the signing of the Oslo agreement in September 1993 and the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in 1994. Young, disappointed Palestinians called for change and many advocated a return to Islam. Of course, Islam had always been a factor in Palestinian society but did not play a leading role in the nationalist groups of the 1970’s.

The Iranian revolution provided a successful model of militant Islam. Young Palestinians were inspired by the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, despite American support. Further success was demonstrated by the exporting of the Iranian Revolution, via Hezbollah, to southern Lebanon. The subsequent withdrawal of Israel following Hezbollah’s resistance provided further impetus to the revival of Islam as a religious and political force in Palestine.

Parallel to these developments, events in Israel promoted the growth of Islamic groups in Palestine; The right wing Likud Party came to power in 1977. From the Palestinian perspective this led to an upsurge in Jewish extremism which manifested itself in attacks on Muslim holy sites, land confiscations, and the spread of Jewish settlements on lands considered by Palestinians to be theirs. As a result, for more and more Palestinians, Islam became the source of hope and salvation from the Israeli occupation.

Today we are facing similar political circumstances, to the ones that lead to the rise of the Islamic movement in the late 80’s and the uprisings. A survey by The Awrad Research Institute reflected that a majority of Palestinians (64%) believe the situation overall is

“headed in the wrong direction” (79% in Gaza, 55% in the West Bank) while (79%) in favour of immediate Palestinian elections which have not been held for over 10 years; this reflects a lack of trust in the political leadership. The long-term security instability and absence of political solutions on the horizon might be leading towards sudden changes in the nature of the Palestinian Israeli conflict. During recent years Israel has established a segregation system in the occupied territories through a series of specific policies that resulted in dividing and fragmenting the Palestinian territories, this have worn away any normal life in the Palestinian territory and have undermined its statehood. According to the annual report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2,300 Palestinians were killed and more than 17,000 injured during 2014, which was the highest number of Palestinian casualties in one year since 1967. Since October 2015, 108 Palestinians were shot dead by ISF in Palestinian and Israeli controlled areas.

On the other hand several waves of violence were conducted by Palestinians, According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, since the 13th September 2015, 38 people were killed in pre-planned attacks and 466 people (including Palestinians) injured. There have been 151 stabbing attacks (including 66 attempted attacks), 92 shootings, 43 vehicle attacks and one vehicle (bus) bombing. Most of these attacks were conducted by self motivated individuals, thus categorized as lone wolf attacks, this phenomenon is new, as Palestinian armed attacks have been previously conducted and pre-planned by groups.

2015 Shooting, stabbing and vehicle attacks’ locations

This change in the nature of the straggle indicates a leadership crisis, collective frustration and lack of hope among Palestinians. Such absence of security and stability cannot but affect the political perspective. These factors might quickly lead to a change in the political and security status quo.



A debate has developed in international and local analysts over the chances of a third Intifada. There are certainly good reasons to believe that a new uprising might come, but there are many consisting differences between today's situation and the ones in the late '80s and in the beginning of 2000s.

The Awrad research institute, targeted 1,200 Palestinians to conducted a survey to assess the public’s possession from a third Intifada results showed that only 42% favours a new uprising (West Bank: 57% are opposed, and in Gaza, 48% are against) Moreover, half believe that an uprising would have a negative effect on achieving a Palestinian statehood (50% overall: 51% in the West Bank, and 49% in the Gaza Strip).

By contrast, polls released in times of violence and frustration, specifically in mid-December showed a majority of Palestinians supporting lone wolf operations targeting Israelis, and a larger armed uprising. This shift in numbers reflects how fast the public opinion towards an uprising can change based on the current political situation.


What would trigger an Intifada?

A future third Intifada might catch fire for a symbolic spark, a major incident catalyzing the anger. Yet, since June 2014 several episodes could have triggered one, but none did:

First, Mohammad Abu Khdeir's kidnapping by Jewish extremists in Shuafat on July 2nd 2014: when reported that the young boy was beaten and burnt alive, the news sparked a wave of riots in East Jerusalem.

Second, the arson attack on July 31st 2015, when extremist Israeli settlers attacked and burned the house of the Dawabsheh family, in Duma, a Palestinian village South to Nablus, killing 18 month-old Ali Dawabsheh, and, within the following weeks, both his parents.

Third, the long struggle over Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound since the spring 2015: for a significant increase of provocatively-made visits at Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound by Jewish extremists, tensions over the Compound has remained dangerously high for months.

This tension gave birth to a new wave of violence, especially -but not exclusively- in Jerusalem. Over a few months, hundreds of Palestinians were killed, often with the accusation of them being potential “lone-wolf attackers”. An increasing fear within the Israeli society, caused by the phenomenon of stabbing attacks, pushed the Israeli government to a growing number of military extraordinary operations in East-Jerusalem and the West Bank, increasing house demolitions, and further restrictions in freedom of movement for Palestinians. In several cases, reported and documented by international and Palestinian media, Israeli soldiers opened fire and killed Palestinians.

These events had the consequence of exacerbating the rage and frustration of Palestinians, sparking protests all over the West Bank and the Gaza strip; and even though the mentioned circumstances did not lead yet to a Third Palestinian Intifada as traditionally intended, they certainly affected the Palestinian society. Hence, despite a third Intifada not being sparked, those events and the constant deterioration of the situation on the ground have certainly created a fertile ground for one.

Nevertheless, compared to the Second Intifada, two main differences subsist and need to be outlined regarding today's situation; On one hand, Palestinians have weaker and less motivated political movements, contrary to 10-15 years ago they were the pillars of the struggle, and managed to provide a solid political ground and continuous support to the popular uprising. On the other hand, Palestinians today lack the leadership willing and able to support and convey a collective uprising, while during both Intifadas there had been charismatic leaderships, able to affect the public’s opinion and give the necessary support to movements on the ground.