Death of an Intifada

Jerusalem Report — Death of an Intifada

In the West Bank city of Tul Karm, everyone from Yasser Arafat̢۪s governor to the remnants of the Al-Aqsa Brigades says the Palestinian uprising is as good as over.

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[T]the armed men are not walking around here anymore, certainly not in broad daylight. The few of them left after the army̢۪s frequent raids, targeted killings and arrests are said to be feeling hunted and alone. And while predictions of calm times ahead may be premature, many here are already declaring Tul Karm̢۪s intifada over.

“Everybody’s either dead or in prison,” says Nidal Jallad, who is hanging around the store shortly before Aweideh makes his entry. “It’s over. We’ve had enough. All we want now is for the prisoners to come home.” One of Nidal’s brothers, a Hamas activist, was caught in March 2003 transporting an explosive belt from Nablus in a car with three others, including the would-be suicide bomber. He is now serving a 17-year sentence in Beersheba jail. Another brother, Nidal says, was shot by an Israeli army sniper during a curfew and is just starting to walk again after four operations. Nidal claims his brother was only outside because soldiers had taken him from his house, dropped him off near the hospital, then ordered him to walk home.

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Residents of Tul Karm are no longer willing to provide refuge for the armed men in their houses, local sources say, for fear of ending up on the army’s demolition list. Furthermore Aweideh, his fingers nervously drumming on the back of his chair, an eye fixed on the door, reveals that it is not only the Israeli actions that are curbing the militants. “The Palestinian Authority used to support us, but we’ve had no funding from them for the past two months,” he claims. “They make promises, but nothing ever materializes. The PA wants to calm the situation, but Sharon doesn’t,” he concludes.

While I’m sure part of this is wishful thinking, given the source, the larger point rings true. In contrast with jihadist terrorists, the PLO and its offshoots have shown some tendency toward political rationality.

To be sure, terrorism has been quite a successful tool for Arafat and company. Compare the standing of the Palestinian cause in 1968 with where they are now, and it’s clear they have come a long way, gaining attention and sympathy worldwide, putting the Israelis on the defensive, and gaining quite a few political concessions along the way–all from a position of incredible weakness. It’s just as clear, though, that the Palestinians overplayed their hand in rejecting the Oslo accords and are playing catch-up.

In both cases, Hamas is the wild card. It is much more violent and extreme than predecessor groups aiming for Palestinian statehood, and has been far less amenable to negotiation. They helped scuttle the Oslo accords and could well derail attempts to stop this Intifada. They have the upper hand, in that even the occasional well-timed suicide bombing can tip the balance, forcing Israel into a reaction that is less than telegenic and thus inciting more action on the part of the comparatively “moderate” Palestinian elements such as Arafat’s Fatah.

Hat tip to Judith Weiss via Stephen Green, who also points to Ralph Peter’s article “In Praise of Attrition” in the current Parameters and reminds of us his own post about victory coming when the enemy is “burned, occupied, and crying uncle.”

FILED UNDER: Terrorism
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.