Palestine: where is the new Intifada?


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Israel is significantly weakened and it would be possible to seize the initiative from it.

The dramatic split in Israeli society, which has already affected the army and security forces, the deep degradation of Tel Aviv’s relations with the U.S. and the EU — this would seem to be enough to deal a decisive blow to the “illegal Zionist entity” and, if not “throw it into the sea”, at least significantly weaken it and begin to dictate its terms. However, nothing similar has been observed. The Palestinians continue to play the role of victims, showing no desire to take the initiative.

This is all the more strange given that since the last (second) Intifada (2000–2002) a new generation of young people has grown up in the Palestinian territories (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip). This is, in fact, the very “combustible” and “self-igniting” material that is necessary for the uprising and makes it almost inevitable.

Another condition for the Intifada is provocations from the Israeli side. There is no shortage of them. The continued Jewish settlement construction on Palestinian lands, the arming of settlers and their attacks on Palestinians, the “Judaization” of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, and plans to annex the West Bank — all this is capable at any moment of causing a powerful explosion of discontent on the part of the Palestinians. Actually, conflicts and clashes take place regularly, but they do not merge into a single wave, into a total Intifada. Even the recent battles in Jenin were not the beginning of it, although they showed the Palestinians’ ability to fight effectively against the Israeli army.

In short, there are now all the necessary and sufficient conditions for a new Intifada. But there is none. Why?

I think the reason is that the Palestinian side came under Iranian control. This fundamentally changed the whole logic of the situation.

Until now, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the architecture of which was generally established in 1947 and 1967. Recently, however, things have changed dramatically: the conflict between Israel and the Arab world can be considered to be largely over (after the signing of the Abraham Accords); it has been replaced by the conflict (or rather, confrontation) between Israel and Iran as the central problem of the region. Accordingly, the problem of Palestine and its conflict with Israel shifted from the responsibility of the Arab world to the responsibility of Tehran.

This leads to a very important conclusion: the outbreak of the Intifada now depends not only and not so much on the presence of the obvious conditions described above, but first and foremost on whether Iran needs this Intifada. And it does not need it, at least not now.

Iran has become a de facto nuclear power capable of playing a “responsible role” in the region and has reached the Mediterranean Sea and Israel’s borders. In parallel, it has managed to normalize its relations with Arab countries. All these are achievements that need to be consolidated, new strategic positions that need to be mastered. Under these conditions, attempts to make further progress, much less unleash an armed conflict (albeit indirect) with a strategic adversary, even a severely weakened one, are connected with an unjustified risk. The authors of Iranian foreign policy are too wise to embark on such adventures. Therefore, it is reasonably safe to assume that there will be no abrupt movements or new major Palestinian uprisings in the near future.

The main task that Iran will solve at this stage is to develop a new modus operandi (a way of practical interaction) with Israel. It is a question of finding the boundaries of what is permissible, the zones of responsibility and influence, the “red lines.” This process can be long, very difficult and risky, requiring great caution; it inevitably consists of a chain of conflicts of varying intensity, in the course of which the parties work out ways of controlling the situation, systems of checks and mutual coordination, with the main goal of creating mechanisms that exclude uncontrolled escalation and other unacceptable risks. It seems that this is what is happening now on Israel’s borders (West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria).

To accomplish this task, Iran needs to establish control over all the leading Palestinian factions. Work in this direction has been underway for a number of years and, to all appearances, has been quite successful. In any case, the recent visits of the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad (a terrorist organization banned in Russia) to Iran and Saudi Arabia allow us to conclude that the Iranians have reached an agreement with the Arab curators of the main Palestinian forces: it is quite likely that the Arabs (in particular, the Saudis) are not averse to get rid of the headache of Palestine and transfer responsibility for it to the Iranians (thereby opening the way for “normalization” with Israel). However, there is still much to be achieved in this direction, and first of all, the departure of the “old guard” represented by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) headed by Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Creating a replacement for the PNA and the PLO is not an easy task, because in addition to the demands, claims and ambitions of many Palestinian groups, it is necessary to take into account the interests of Israel, for which Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is still the only reliable partner capable of providing the necessary level of stability and predictability in the most important direction — the West Bank. And the recent decision of Netanyahu’s cabinet to resume support for the PNA shows that Tel Aviv does not see an alternative to Abu Mazen.

Be that as it may, it can be assumed that until Iran and Israel reach a compromise on the composition and leadership of the new Palestinian administration, the likelihood of a new Intifada is extremely low. The fact is that under the current conditions any armed conflict can immediately turn into another inter-Palestinian civil war (which will undoubtedly be facilitated by the Israeli intelligence services). To put it simply, today’s Intifada would be waged not against the Israeli occupation, but against Mahmoud Abbas’s PNA, for whom there is no replacement yet….

But even if the Iranians and Israelis find a compromise on this issue, the new Intifada will be even less relevant, since the goals and objectives of the new Palestinian leadership will be to ensure Iranian-Israeli interaction, not to fight for the interests of the Palestinian people.

This does not mean, however, that the possibility of a new Intifada is completely ruled out. In our view, it is ruled out by the logic of the regional situation; at the same time, there is no guarantee that any global or regional force will not try to change this logic. That is, to disrupt the process of forming mechanisms for practical Iranian-Israeli interaction. In this case, an explosion of the situation on the Palestinian territories would be one of the most effective methods.