Extract from article by Daniel Polisar whose research has focused on democratization, Israel’s constitutional development, and the challenges of liberalization in the Palestinian Authority. For full analysis see http://tinyurl.com/goj4c2g
Is the “knife intifada” beginning to run out of steam? Some observers say so. Yet last Friday, April 1, marked an impressive half-year since the launch of the current wave of Palestinian violence. Characterized largely by stabbings carried out by youngsters, generally acting alone or in pairs, this round of attacks has already claimed the lives of 30 Israelis, two Americans, an Eritrean asylum seeker, and a Palestinian bystander, and caused more than 400 injuries.
During this time, according to official Israeli sources, there have been over 200 stabbings or attempted stabbings at an average pace greater than one per day, as well as 40 car-ramming assaults and 80 shootings. Though perpetrated almost exclusively by Palestinians living in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and focused largely on these areas, the attacks have also reached Israel’s coastal cities, most notably Tel Aviv. And though not yet nearly so long-running as the first (1987-1991) or second (2000-2004) intifadas, the current wave, given that it appears to be driven by individual initiative rather than by organized militant groups like Hamas or Fatah, has shown remarkable staying power.
What explains its endurance? One reason may be that the perpetrators both reflect and are largely motivated by Palestinian public opinion. Here it is necessary to explore what has changed over the last six months in how Palestinians see their conflict with Israel, and especially the desirability and efficacy of resorting to violence. In doing so, this analysis relies principally on polls conducted during this period by three of the leading Palestinian polling institutes whose published results reliably indicate what Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza think.
Most Palestinians, despite the fact that their countrymen are the ones initiating attacks on Israelis, see themselves as being under attack by Israel—on both the national and the individual level. In a December 2015 poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), 51 percent of respondents were convinced that Israel’s long-term goal with respect to the Temple Mount area in the Old City of Jerusalem is to “destroy [the] al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques and build a synagogue in their place.” Among Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem, that figure rose to 66 percent—a significant datum given that residents of these two areas are almost exclusively responsible for the current uprising and that their views exert a corresponding influence on its course. Far from being a one-time fluke, this finding extended a pattern observed in surveys during the previous year, and was replicated in PSR’s most recent poll in March 2016.
What makes this Palestinian fear particularly remarkable is that the Israeli government has repeatedly gone on record opposing any change in the core element of the status quo put in place on the Mount in 1967, which is that Muslims worship there en masse in a number of structures dedicated to that purpose, but no place exists for Jewish communal prayer and Jewish visitors are forbidden from praying there even as individuals. Not a single party or leading figure in Israel’s current government or any of its predecessors has proposed the building of a synagogue on the Mount, or suggested harming the Muslim holy sites that have stood on it for the past thirteen centuries. Similarly, no Israeli government has taken any steps that could plausibly be interpreted as indicating an interest in such actions.
Yet none of this seems to have the slightest effect on the sense among most Palestinians not only that Israel aims to destroy the Muslim holy sites in the future but that an attack against them is already under way.