The “Third Palestinian Intifada” has been with us almost from the moment the second Intifada was tamed by Israeli action. Just google “third Palestinian Intifada” to find it all: The predictions, the warnings, the applications, the preparations, the countdowns. 'Are Palestinians heading for a third Intifada?', asked one writer back in 2009. Well, they might be, eventually, If not in 2009, 2010, 2011 or 2012, then maybe now, as Palestinian officials are warning, and Israeli opposition leaders are also warning, and IDF officers are warning as well… Such a development would not be a welcomed one, of course, but panic would make it worse. Besides, it might also make it more likely, as a 'third intifada' is far from being a done deal.
The respectable Reut Institute (an Israeli think tank) predicted more than six years ago that “the combination of (1) the policy of the ‘Three Demands’ (international conditions for talks with Hamas) that leads to the paralysis of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and (2) the absence of a political agenda is liable to bring a ‘Strategic Surprise’ in the form of either a collapse of the PA or a Third Intifada”. Nice try, but we’re still waiting to see either of these two options materialize.
Back in 2010, I joined the chorus myself (if cautiously). Writing an analysis for a Washington group, I referred to spreading rumors of a possible new “intifada”:
The threat of a “third Intifada” – another round of violent clashes between Palestinians and Israelis – is often used both as warning aimed at pushing the sides toward negotiations and as a weapon aimed at pressuring Israel into making more concessions. While the current Palestinian leadership doesn’t seem to want another violent Intifada, and has many reasons to try and contain recent demonstrations of violence and keep them under guard – there’s a trend of growing pressure, both external and internal, for more violence. The warnings of recent weeks that another Intifada is imminent should be seen more as a tactical weapon than real threat. However, if the effort to restart political negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians fails to provide for calming results, the chance for a third Intifada will grow toward early summer.
“Early summer” – that’s summer 2010… Of course, it didn’t quite happen. But this doesn’t mean that it will not happen in the summer of 2013. Of course, many of the ingredients that were part of the mix that ignited the two previous rounds of violence can be easily detected when one considers the current situation: The political process – aka “the peace process” – is still stuck. Palestinian outrage over real or imaginary acts by Israel - such as expansion of the settlements – is high. But all this was true last year, and the year before that, and an Intifada, while feared, never materialized.
The last two years in the Middle East have been anything but predictable: A week before Mubarak's fall, Israel still believed he will survive. More than a year ago Israel claimed that Assad's fall is imminent – a matter “of weeks” – and Assad is still with us. With such precedents, a reluctance to make predictions is not a sign of spinelessness; it is a sign of healthy humility.
Thus, warning signs alone cannot lead one to conclusively argue that a “third Intifada” will (or will not) erupt in the near future. The nature of such events is such that much is left to coincidence, miscalculations and unpredictable turns. The “public mood” – an essential ingredient for such an eruption to occur – is very hard to measure. An abrupt rainstorm can make the difference, an accidental death or injury can lead to disaster.
Intelligence gathering in the West Bank both by Israel’s Internal Security agency (Shin Bet) and by the Palestinian Authority, is more efficient today than it was before 2000, helping both governments to better anticipate destabilizing developments. But intelligence and analysis – as good as they might be – have failed time and again to make accurate predictions concerning major developments in the Middle East. Thus, what both Israel and the Palestinians need is not good predictions – it is good prevention.