Analysis: After hundreds of arrests in West Bank in recent weeks and another campaign in Gaza, fears of further escalation remain as experts warn the conflict has entered an ‘intractable, low-intensity’ stage

Eight people were wounded early Sunday after a Palestinian gunman opened fire on a bus in the Old City of Jerusalem. Three of the injured were in serious condition as a result of the shooting, which came in the midst of a period of heightened tensions between Israel and Palestinians.

The shooting occurred near the Western Wall, the holiest site for Jews. Witnesses say the area was crowded, despite the late hour. The attacker, a Palestinian resident of east Jerusalem, turned himself in hours after the attack.

זירת הפיגוע
Jewish man inspects a bullet hole left in a window of a Jerusalem bus by Palestinian attacker on Sunday (Photo: AFP)


The attack comes a week after a ceasefire was reached between the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in the Gaza Strip and Israel after a three-day cross-border conflict. At least 49 Gazans were killed in the fighting. PIJ militants fired over 1,000 rockets toward Israel. No Israelis were killed, and a few were lightly hurt.

The tension in Gaza comes after Israeli military raids into the West Bank, due to what Israel described as solid intelligence that the PIJ planned attacks on Israelis near the border. Hundreds of arrests have been made in recent months and violent clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians have been frequent. The arrest of a senior PIJ commander at the beginning of the month in one of these raids led to the most recent eruption of violence in the Gaza Strip.

Since the ceasefire, raids on West Bank villages and cities have continued. Last week, Israeli forces killed three Palestinians in the city of Nablus. Dozens also were wounded during the raid. One of the dead was Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, wanted by Israelis for a series of terror attacks. The funeral procession for the dead terror cell operative was attended by thousands. His death sparked massive support from Palestinians on social media, who promised to execute his dying wish of continued resistance to Israel.

איברהים אל-נבלוסי
Ibrahim al-Nablusi


While these events are seemingly all connected, the nature of the conflict continues to supply events that contribute to the rising death toll.

“We are in an intractable, low-intensity conflict,” Dr. Ronni Shaked, coordinator of the Middle East Unit at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said. “There are a lot of events that happen that do not reach the headlines.”

“There is a continuous effort of terrorist organizations to carry out attacks, even before the recent escalation in Gaza,” said Ido Zelkovitz, head of the Middle Eastern Studies program at Yezreel Valley College and a research fellow in the Chaikin Chair of Geostrategy at the University of Haifa. “In the background, we have the continued weakening of the Palestinian Authority and the constant Israeli military operations in the West Bank.”

The Nabulsi funeral and the posthumous glorification of his activities serve as a testament to the dire situation, but also as fuel for future attacks such as the one that occurred in Jerusalem early Sunday.

“From Gaza, Hamas is leading a continuous and effective incitement campaign on social media,” said Zelkovitz. “This incitement encourages lone attackers to take action once they put their hands on a weapon.”

מפגן צבאי בעזה
Hamas militants in Gaza (Photo: EPA)


“This translates into viral terrorism, and we may see copycat attacks in the coming days,” he added.

Nabulsi himself was not a senior commander in a terror organization, but rather a mid-level commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the armed wing of the Fatah party. In his death, he became a Palestinian icon of resistance to the Jewish state.

“The funeral is a social ceremony of identification with the dead,” said Shaked. “There were scores of people openly holding weapons. This symbolizes the longing for weapons because they have no hope, no solution in sight.”

Palestinians living in the West Bank may not face the same economic hardships as their brethren in Gaza, but life under Israeli rule leads to massive frustration on many levels. Israel maintains its actions are necessary in order to protect itself from Palestinian violence.
“The basic conditions of the conflict have not changed, neither has the ethos,” Shaked added.

But throughout the years, and more so in recent months, the complexities of the Palestinian political map are further fueling the continuation of the conflict.

פעילות צה"ל
IDF soldiers in the West Bank (Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)


The recent fighting in Gaza between Israel and Islamic Jihad had Hamas – which controls Gaza – on the sidelines, with the voice of the Palestinian Authority – which is in charge of the West Bank – barely heard even as Israel’s Air Force launched strikes on the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s continued raids in the West Bank, which began in March, also have been met with little resistance from the PA, which continues to cooperate covertly with the Israeli military.

The scene of the latest attack in Jerusalem plays into Hamas’ hands, yet again. From Gaza, it has continuously called for attacks against Israelis in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Struggling with the dire situation in one of the world’s most impoverished territories, Hamas is more interested in maintaining its grip on the Gaza Strip than entering into another war with Israel.

“Hamas would like the attention to be focused on Jerusalem and on the West Bank,” said Shaked, “Money continues to flow into Gaza, while Egypt has slightly eased the blockade and Israel has increased the number of work permits. Hamas is strengthening because everyone wants to appease them in order to maintain the quiet.”

“Hamas wants to see unrest in the West Bank and further attacks on Israelis while continuing to undermine the legitimacy of the PA in order to topple Fatah in the end,” said Zelkovitz.

מפגן צבאי בעזה
Hamas in Gaza (Photo: EPA)


Led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the PA sees Hamas as the main threat to its stability and the target of many of its own security operations. For Hamas, the PA’s position against it gradually erodes its legitimacy among Palestinians.

“There is no danger of Hamas taking over in the West Bank, as both Israeli and PA intelligence operate against it,” said Shaked.

While the nature of a protracted conflict means such attacks like the one in Jerusalem will continue, it is unlikely they will be a game-changer in the conflict.

“The power of terrorism is limited and Israel’s ability to thwart attacks and hit terrorist infrastructure is much more significant,” said Zelkovitz. “Even if we are facing a short-term viral wave, in the end, the wave does not have enough energy to become permanent.”

“Terrorism is not a strategic threat to Israel,” he concluded.

As reported by Ynetnews