With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Is a Third Intifada Imminent?

The legacy of the second intifada still shapes politics for both Israelis and Palestinians. Between September 28, 2000, and February 8, 2005, 1,038 Israelis and 3,189 Palestinians were killed. During that time, Israeli forces demolished over 4,000 Palestinian homes and arrested thousands of Palestinians. Israel also shut down and bombed Palestinian ministries and infrastructure to coerce Palestinian leaders to end the violence.

The second intifada erupted because of a mix of factors, some particular to the time but others that could recur. Ariel Sharon, an Israeli politician who was then leader of the opposition—and, in the eyes of many Palestinians, a war criminal—triggered the uprising with a deliberately provocative visit to the site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif. Palestinians rioted in response to the visit, which prompted a harsh Israeli crackdown that, in turn, killed more Palestinians, sparking more protests in a deadly cycle.

More broadly, Palestinians were frustrated with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which had initially raised hopes for independence but eventually stalled. The negotiations led to the creation of the PA, which was headed by longtime Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and largely composed of officials from Fatah, the organization he co-founded. In the 1990s, the PA helped Israel crush Hamas, and both Israel and the United States looked the other way from the corruption and human rights abuses of Arafat and his cronies. Palestinians believed that Israel was dragging its feet on negotiations, refusing to make concessions, delaying transfers of territory, and wreaking havoc on the Palestinian economy through border and travel restrictions.

Hamas and factions within Fatah exploited this sentiment. As peace negotiations stalled in the 1990s, some Palestinian groups, with Arafat’s knowledge, armed for a coming conflict. When the Camp David talks failed in 2000, they seized the moment. Some hoped to use violence to force Israeli concessions. More extreme elements believed they could use terrorism to drive Israel from the West Bank and Gaza altogether. The groups often competed with one another, attacking Israel to demonstrate their resolve to ordinary Palestinians. The violence received enthusiastic support from outside Israel, with people in Saudi Arabia and other Arab and Muslim countries sending funds to Palestinians, including to the families of suicide bombers.

As the violence grew, many Israelis came to believe the negotiations were always a sham—that Arafat was unwilling to make peace and that Palestinians were, in general, committed to violence, despite the concessions Israel offered at Camp David. Palestinians reached a similar conclusion in the opposite direction, seeing the peace process as a way for Israel to consolidate the occupation of Palestinian territories and believing that they were set up for failure at Camp David.

Arafat did not plan the violence in 2000, but he did try to exploit it, relying on his own popularity and charisma to ensure that no strong rivals among the militant leaders emerged to challenge him. He even believed he could exploit Hamas without it eclipsing his leadership. Soon, however, the violence spiraled out of his or anyone’s control. Israel’s ferocious counterterrorism response devastated Hamas and various Fatah factions, as well as the Palestinian institutional infrastructure, reducing their ability to attack Israelis. But the response also made it harder for Palestinian leaders to control the violence because the organizations had splintered.

After several bloody years, the second intifada petered out. Major armed Palestinian groups, including Hamas, declared a cease-fire in 2005, and the fighting steadily declined in the years that followed, with others, such as the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, eventually accepting a cease-fire, too. Negotiations did not end the violence; Israeli intelligence and military forces did. They did so by killing suspected terrorists, gathering intelligence on armed Palestinian groups, reoccupying cities in the West Bank, arresting large swaths of Palestinians, establishing checkpoints throughout the West Bank, and erecting a barrier that roughly follows the former green line between the West Bank and Israel (having already built a barrier on the Gaza border). Over time, Palestinian armed groups grew weak, and Palestinians grew weary of fighting. Arafat died in 2004, and his successor, Abbas, renounced violence.

Read entire article at Foreign Affairs