A West Bank Fatah leader and head of the Palestinian Prisoner Society in Ramallah, Qadura Fares, believes that the four recent terrorist attacks against Israelis in the West Bank are not some indication that a new intifada is erupting. They are, however, a disconcerting sign of a growing sense of desperation.
Within a single month, Sgt. Tomer Hazan was killed in Samaria (Sept. 21), Sgt. Gal (Gavriel) Kobi died the following day from sniper fire in an incident that occurred near the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, a 9-year-old girl was stabbed by a Palestinian terrorist who infiltrated the settlement of Psagot (Oct. 5) and Col. Sariyah Ofer was bludgeoned to death in the Jordan Valley by two Palestinians wielding axes (Oct. 10).
In a telephone interview with Al-Monitor, Fares said that as far as he knows, the attacks were committed by local groups and were not supported by any of the various Palestinian organizations. “Frustration and hopelessness in the Palestinian street are the main factors behind what we saw last month,” he explained. “We've seen this many times before. When there is no hope, no livelihood, no liberty, no freedom, the ground is ripe for violence. But I don't think that a handful of incidents means that we are already there, in an intifada.”
Al-Monitor: Isn't there some organization behind all the recent events?
Fares: There is no organization involved in them.
Al-Monitor: Isn't the recent round of violence in the Palestinians' interest, to achieve its objectives and escape the status quo?
Fares: There has never been such a Palestinian interest, but that is how things develop.
Al-Monitor: What is the current state of security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority?
Fares: There is full cooperation, much to my chagrin.
Al-Monitor: Why do you say chagrin?
Fares: Because as far as I'm concerned, the security cooperation that has persisted since the Oslo Accord was intended to protect the diplomatic process from anyone who attempted to harm it. While there are still negotiations underway, I don't know if we can call them a diplomatic process. It is just a few people sitting together in a room, and I don't feel like there's any way we can reach a breakthrough and eventually a peace agreement.
Fares: Look, today Israeli forces enter anywhere in the West Bank, including the area surrounding [Palestinian Chairman] Abu Mazen's home, and without coordinating it with anyone. They have already entered the quarter [in Ramallah] where Abu Mazen lives several times. When they [Israeli Defense Forces] plan to go in, they don't tell anyone. On the other hand, there is full coordination on our part, which is why I see the situation as being unjust. This is double standard. This was not why we established our security forces. Those forces were intended to protect the Palestinian people and the peace. But there is no peace. When our own security forces are unable to protect mosques that are being set on fire or trees that are being uprooted by settlers, the whole purpose of our security coordination is only to ensure Israel's security.
Al-Monitor: Is that your opinion? The opinion of the Fatah leadership? Or is it a reflection of widespread criticism among the Palestinian public for security cooperation?
Fares: Every sector of society can see what happens when there is no peace. People plant wheat, and their fields are burned. But the Palestinian security forces can do nothing to prevent that. That is why I conclude that Palestinian security forces were intended to ensure Israel's security, without maintaining our own security.
Al-Monitor: Are the Palestinian security forces making an effort to prevent attacks against Israel and the emergence of groups intending to carry out such attacks?
Fares: Yes, that's exactly what they are doing. A lot of people were arrested, not only to prevent an intifada from breaking out but also to prove to anyone who still needs convincing and who doesn't want to be convinced that we are doing everything we can. We are fulfilling all of our commitments. But the others must also fulfill their commitments. We were asked to ensure security, and you Israelis were asked to end the occupation, so let's make some progress. Over the years, the security issue offered a window for a constant barrage of attacks against us, saying that we are not serious, and that we are not fighting against those forces that want to harm the agreements. But we did our part. The question is whether you did yours, or are continuing to do yours. I don't think so.
Al-Monitor: You are pessimistic about the diplomatic process. Is that the conventional wisdom among the Palestinians in general?
Fares: I think that Abu Mazen himself feels the same way. If it was only up to Abu Mazen, he wouldn't have been stupid enough to get himself into negotiations that have no chance of success. But this conflict isn't just a local conflict. Other countries applied pressure, and we were asked to try again; so we are trying, even though we know who we are talking to.
Al-Monitor: In other words, the only reason you agreed to participate in these talks with Israel was because of international pressure?
Fares: If, for instance, Netanyahu would have agreed to change his coalition, it would prove to us that he really intends to go in the direction of peace, and we would be a little less pessimistic. But Netanyahu is competing with the people on his right, with government ministers and Knesset members alike, over who is more right wing and who is more extreme.
Al-Monitor: Don't you feel that you are a low-ranking priority now, especially compared to Iran?
Fares: Netanyahu is using Iran in the Palestinian issue, too, as part of an effort to show and present that right now he has more important things to worry about. He is trying to frighten Israeli society to justify his policies and push the Palestinian issue into a corner.
Al-Monitor: Will a new intifada erupt if the talks fail? Will people on the ground respond?
Fares: I think the situation will be catastrophic. There are people calling it a third intifada. I don't know if that is the right term. I'm not sure at all, but I do know that the situation will be very bad.
Al-Monitor: Finally, are there any talks underway with Hamas about a possible reconciliation? Have any feelers been sent out or any talks or contacts taking place?
Fares: Not right now. The Egyptians are busy with their own affairs, which means that they are not available to get involved in ours. We don't initiate anything on our own. Even if we wanted to talk, Abu Mazen would never agree to go to Qatar to sit down over there with Hamas.
Shlomi Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. For the past two decades, he has covered the Palestinian Authority and especially the Gaza Strip for Israel’s Channels 1 and 10, reporting on the emergence of Hamas. In 2007, he was awarded the Sokolov Prize, Israel’s most important media award, for this work.