No officials have declared an end to the second intifada, which began in September, 2000. It is reasonable to conclude, however, that it has petered out with another catastrophic loss for the Palestinians.
Estimates are that more than 5,300 Palestinians have died, along with 1,100 Israelis, and 64 others caught in the cross-fire. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Intifada
As with much that deals with the Palestinians, the numbers are not precise. Also, it is not clear how many died as the result of fighting among Palestinians, and how many died while making or transporting munitions.
Added to Palestinian casualties are some 12,000 prisoners in Israeli custody. Added to the Israeli casualties is the one soldier taken captive to Gaza.
The imbalance in the tolls is only part of the Palestinian catastrophe. No less damaging to the Palestinian cause is their civil war, resulting in Gaza being cut off from the rest of the world, subsisting on meager rations, and governed by religious extremists who offer the residents little more than an afterlife.
If the injured are in the same proportions as the dead, that is another component of the Palestinian catastrophe. They have few resources for medical care and rehabilitation.
Better than "intifada," this period should be labeled the "second failed war of Palestinian statehood." In this reckoning, the first was the earlier intifada, from 1987 until the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. Those accords could have put the Palestinians on the road to statehood, but continued violence and failed attempts at further agreements sent them to the dustbin. The Oslo accords granted autonomy to the Palestinians in much of the West Bank and Gaza, including extensive responsibility for security. Autonomy has declined in the second intifada as Israeli forces routinely enter West Bank areas to seize individuals suspected of violence. Currently a tense cease fire has stopped Israeli incursions into Gaza, and Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza.
We could argue about the numbering of the intifadas as the first and second wars of Palestinian statehood. It might be better to label them the n+1 and n+2 wars, with n standing for all the previous surges of Palestinian violence going back to the 1920s.
The label "wars of statehood" is more appropriate than "wars of independence." There are several reasons to doubt that the thrust of Palestinian national desire is independence. Numerous Palestinians are inclined to absorb Israel rather than live alongside of it as an independent state. And many of the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel are not inclined to become citizens of an independent Palestine. The status of a minority in Israel is tolerable if it comes with health care, other social benefits, and greater civil rights than enjoyed by full fledged Palestinians.
It is also inaccurate to describe these as struggles for independence insofar as Israelis have long wanted to be free of any responsibility for Palestinians. It would not involve a struggle, much less a war, for Palestinians to achieve independence. The problem is that they want much of what Israelis view as their own. The devil is in the details.
The tragedy in all of this is that neither Palestinians nor much of the world (including many Israelis) recognize the realities.
Palestinians in nominal charge of the West Bank insist on turning back the clock. They demand the borders that existed in 1967, and the return of refugees plus descendents to homes left in 1948. Palestinians in charge of Gaza are even more extreme. They would eliminate Israel altogether and immediately.
I doubt that benefits like those will come to a people who have tried time and again to get what they want with violence, and have failed at each attempt.
It is no surprise that Palestinian aspirations have wide support among Arabs and other Muslims. At least some of the Palestinian aspirations also have the endorsement of the United Nations, as well as the United States and other western governments. Israeli leftists signed on long ago. Most recently the widely repudiated but still hanging on prime minister recanted positions held throughout his career and proclaimed the wisdom of giving into substantial territorial claims of the Palestinians.
So where does this leave us?
Pretty much where we were when the first intifada began, and perhaps long before then.
Israelis claim to be peace loving, and now the government ascribes to a two-state solution. There remains a low level of Palestinian violence, marked by occasional attacks by organizations or enraged individuals.
The Palestinian leadership occasionally threatens a renewal of violence if it does not get its demands. Given the record of imbalanced losses, and the inherent distrust of Israelis, those threats do not advance their cause. We know how to live alongside a restive population, and maintain security forces capable of dealing with what may become the next outbreak of violence.
This is the time of year when we should aspire to new beginnings. There may be a new prime minister shortly, but a limited change in personnel is not likely to counter Palestinian intransigence and other stubborn elements of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
We may not be at the end of the n+i wars of Palestinian statehood.
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Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325