Palestinian unrest is competing with domestic unrest about the Haredim as the principal items in Israel's media.
Has the third intifada already started? Is it only a matter of time?
It appears that the Palestinian leadership on the West Bank has no desire for a full blown rebellion. They know what happened to Gaza, even though they join with Gazan in declaring victory. However, the same leadership glories in popular demonstrations against "Israeli occupation," and they may not be able to control the spill over from middle-level protests to the kind of violence that will make the IDF even more violent in return.
The infrastructure for trouble has been around since the 1920s, with additions traced to 1948, 1967, and the most recent victory in the United Nations General Assembly. It components include
Islam, which comes along with the notion that the Middle East should be ruled by Muslims
A surplus of unemployed, or underemployed young men
Six decades of a leadership promising that "refugees" and their descendants will eventually return to homes that no longer exist, whose return would require the moving aside of several million Jews defended by an army and other security forces that far outweighs anything the Palestinians can do
A current uptick associated with the UNGA's upgrading of Palestine to partial recognition as a state, further spurred by a leadership wanting to make a point when Barack Obama visits next month, spurred even higher by support for security prisoners on a prolonged hunger strike, topped off by the recent death of another Palestinian in an Israeli jail
Along with the persistent demand to end Israeli occupation, demonstrators are now demanding the freedom of Palestinians in Israeli security prisons.
Many of those are serving multiple life sentences for multiple murders.
So far the IDF and Border Police have been able to contain things with their skills and tools of crowd control. Current pictures on TV and Five Broken Cameras show young men in Israeli uniforms shooting gas grenades, stun grenades (loud noise, no shrapnel), and rubber bullets, along with trucks armed with water cannons dealing with crowds that throw stones and an occasional homemade fire bomb, but retreat in the face of the Israelis. Some individuals respond badly to the gas, and occasionally a rubber bullet does serious damage or even kills. Thrown stones injure Israelis, some seriously. Media personnel suffer from the missiles of one side or the other, depending on where they are recording the action. For the most part, the scenes on both sides have remained at a tolerable level.
It will change if the Palestinians escalate to suicide bombers.
Also involved are what a Palestinian often interviewed on Israeli media called "your crazies." He was referring to extremist religious settlers who claim to be responding to Palestinian violence and thievery by destroying Palestinian property and using their firearms against individual Palestinians.
The Palestinian and Haredi issues are associated. The IDF and other security forces are hard pressed with multiple personnel-intensive tasks. There are security barriers to patrol throughout the West Bank, along the Sinai border with Egypt, across the northern border with Lebanon, and being upgraded along the Golan border with Syria. There are checkpoints where roads used by Palestinians reach Israeli settlements. And now the frequent demonstrations.at low to moderate levels of violence require small unit responses, backed up by larger cadres in case things get out of control.
The combination weighs on the professionals at the upper levels of security, on the media, and politicians. The Haredim represent a sizable pool of untapped manpower (no one has mentioned recruiting Haredi womanpower), at least some of which can be trained to take part in the current needs of national defense.
That's where we are. Where we go depends on the Palestinians, the Haredim, and whatever emerges as the nation's political leadership.
There is considerable discipline on the Israeli side, along with a present inability of party leaders to agree among themselves within the rules about forming a government. The Haredim will follow their rabbis, but the rabbis differ in what they are promoting. They range from flexibility with respect to young men who want to leave the academies for the military, social service and work, to a firm insistence that the status quo must continue.
The rabbis may change their tunes if the buses used by their congregations and the rest of us begin to explode.
Palestinians are the most unsettled part of these calculations. Some of their political leaders say they are willing to live alongside of Israel. Others are extreme, itching to use their weapons and home made explosives in order to expel the Zionist enemy. There are also unaffiliated individuals who nurse their anger and occasionally go on rampages of deadly violence. Palestinians have attacked Jews on the street with kitchen knives, and the drivers of trucks and tractors have gone amok on crowded city streets and driven into crowds on the sidewalk.
The Israeli government has changed direction on the matter of releasing money collected at the ports as taxes on imports for Palestine. After the Palestinians pursued their UN decision, Israel began withholding the funds to pay the Palestinians' electric bill. Now the government has given into the demands of its own security advisers, and has decided to resume transfers. Much of the money is used to pay the salaries of Palestinian security personnel, who have cooperated with Israel in controlling their demonstrations.
We cannot forget Iran, even though the prospect of an Israeli attack is not receiving much attention.
Not likely are conventional attacks by Arab armies. They are dealing with civil wars at high or low intensity.
And here comes Barack Obama. Who know what he expects, and what he is prepared to offer and demand?
My mailbox is open should any of you have an answer to those questions, or any of the others implied in the above.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem