After Jenin, is a third Palestinian uprising inevitable?

Israeli military raids in the occupied West Bank have become commonplace during the last year, with at least 200 Palestinians – fighters and civilians alike – killed as a result.

Yet the raid on Thursday in Jenin, when dozens of Israeli special forces attacked a house containing suspected fighters, leading to several hours of intense fighting, was more reminiscent of scenes last witnessed in the city in 2002, during the second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising.

Then, as it is now, Jenin was a centre for Palestinian armed factions fighting the Israeli occupation.

The 2002 Battle of Jenin took place across a week and at least 52 Palestinians were killed, many of them civilians, as well as 23 Israeli soldiers.

Since the end of the second Intifada in 2005, Israel has gradually adopted a policy in which the occupation of the Palestinians, continuing since 1967 and illegal under international law, is treated like a security problem, rather than a political one.

The walls went up around the West Bank and Israelis have become relatively safe from attack, while the military cracks down on the Palestinians when need be.

The man who has overseen much of that policy is the man who has just returned as Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The longest-serving Israeli prime minister, Netanyahu believes his strategy has worked, pointing to normalisation deals signed with several Arab states since 2020, including the United Arab Emirates and Morocco.

“In the previous decade, our political rivals warned us that if we did not make extraordinary concessions to the Palestinians, we would receive a diplomatic tsunami that would lead very quickly to a terrible economic tsunami,” Netanyahu said at a news conference on Wednesday. “In practice, the complete opposite happened. Our policy led Israel to four historic peace agreements with Arab countries, as well as an unprecedented diplomatic flourishing and economic prosperity.”

Netanyahu has a point. Israel has had little in the way of international pushback, even as it has moved further and further to the far right and increased its stranglehold over Palestinian life.

He has also believed in his ability to control the situation in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinian generational divide

But Netanyahu has been dealing with an older Palestinian generation, and many young Palestinians are increasingly getting frustrated, and becoming more determined to strike back.

That is what has led to the emergence over the last year of several armed groups in the West Bank, ostensibly not under the direct control of the traditional Palestinian factions, such as Fatah, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, nor of the increasingly unpopular Palestinian Authority.

The members of these new groups – perhaps the most famous of which is the Lions’ Den, based in Nablus, are young.

Many of them have affiliations with the traditional factions, but they have decided to go their own way, and take the fight to the Israelis.

It has been one of the reasons for the uptick in Palestinian attacks on Israelis in the first half of 2022, as well as the increased raids on the West Bank, part of an operation Israel calls “Break the Wave”.

These new groups speak to a wider issue – the increasing irrelevance of the elderly politicians who have dominated Palestinian political life for decades.

That includes the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who, at 87, has been unwell in recent years, and is unpopular, with no natural successor.

That lack of leadership, and the emergence of the new independent groups, has meant that it is harder for foreign countries to intervene and calm matters, particularly if the Israeli government continues its harsh policies towards Palestinians.

For the new armed groups, the objective is not to calm things, but to end the occupation.

As far-right groups have grown stronger in the Israeli government, the occupation has looked even more entrenched.

Illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, already home to 500,000 people, are increasing in number, and the Israeli government is set to “legalise” settler outposts that had even been considered illegal under Israeli law.

The Israelis also hold thousands of Palestinians as prisoners, approximately 800 of them without trial.

Exacerbating events like the raid in Jenin have brought the situation to a precipice.

Any number of incidents could set off a third uprising: clashes at Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem; another Israeli war on Gaza; displacement of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank or; a deadly Israeli raid into a Palestinian refugee camp.

Similar events were part of the first and second Intifadas and, after such a deadly year, it may become apparent that a third has already begun.

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