The West Bank is witnessing some of the worst violence between Israelis and Palestinians in years. It’s an explosive mix, observers say, as the Palestinian Authority appears unable to rein in militants while the Israeli military is doing little or nothing to stop attacks by extremist Jewish settlers.
Violence in the West Bank has sharply escalated in recent days. Palestinian militias have attacked Israeli troops and Jewish settlers, while the Israeli military has used drones and helicopter gunships to kill Palestinians.
Extremist Jewish settlers have rampaged through Palestinian towns, setting homes and cars ablaze. The soaring violence now seen over past months has drawn alarm from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, who warned that the “violence risks spiraling out of control.”
Mideast analyst Bruce Riedel, an emeritus non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told VOA he believes a third intifada — or Palestinian uprising — against Israeli occupation is now under way. The first intifada raged from 1987 to 1993, and the second began in 2000.
“The level of violence in the northern West Bank, but also in other places, in Jerusalem, inside Israel in the Arab community, and now in the Druze community in the Golan, is much higher than normal,” said Riedel. “One of the most disturbing elements is we see guns are now available in places like Nabulus and Jenin. In the past, it was very, very difficult for Palestinians to get access to weapons. Now we are seeing it is a more frequent occurrence.”
Israel’s right-wing government has pushed for a more aggressive military response to Palestinian militant attacks, while encouraging Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank, observers say. They say the Palestinian Authority is unable to rein in militants because it lacks legitimacy among ordinary Palestinians.
“The situation is ripe for further descent into chaos,” said Riedel. “You have an extremely rightwing Israeli government, members of whom are calling for large-scale military operations in Jenin, the use of air power, and you have a Palestinian leadership which is beyond weak now.”
A Palestinian national security expert Zakaria al-Qaq told The New York Times that there appears to be “total involvement between Israel and the small Palestinian factions, and the Palestinian Authority is outside of the game, on the margins, or not really there at all.”
Hanan Ashrawi, once the official Palestinian spokesperson in the Middle East peace process, told the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace recently that the language of the two-state solution — envisioning a Palestinian state established alongside Israel — “has become increasing irrelevant.”
“We are at the end of an era now both in Palestine and Israel,” she said. “We are undergoing a situation of serious transition. All the previous assumptions have been proven to be wrong and even the signed agreements have not been honored but have been used to acerbate the conflict or Israel’s control rather than to remove the occupation or end up with self-determination for Palestine.”
Ashrawi criticizes Israel’s actions undermining Palestinian aspirations but also the Palestinian leadership’s mismanagement and fragmentation.