The attack of the masses on a Nahal Brigade infantry patrol in Hebron ahead of last weekend is not just another warning sign of the possibility that Judea and Samaria will soon start to burn: It is another manifestation of the fact that years of almost total quiet are reaching their end.
Even more grave than the attack is the fact that is being exposed here for the first time: Palestinian security forces have stopped taking active measures against Hamas terror infrastructure in the last few days. The IDF is starting to survey the picture and begin to ready for the possibility that a new round of significant violence will erupt in Judea and Samaria during the first quarter of 2013.
In order to understand to what extent this is a strategic shift in the situation, we need to go back a few years. Terror in Judea and Samaria effectively began to dissipate in the middle of the last decade as a result of operation “Defensive Shield” in 2002 and consistent IDF and Shin Bet activity at the heart of the casbahs [Palestinian old cities] and Palestinian refugee camps. Starting in 2008, a calm that was almost total prevailed over the territories. Palestinian security forces, supported by Israel and the United States, contributed to that fact, along with a clear order from Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] and PA leaders — the choice of a political path as a route to achieving a Palestinian state, at the expense of a path of struggle. The Hamas takeover of Gaza Strip contributed most of all to cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces: the common enemy was particularly strong glue between Israel and Fatah.
The common interest in fighting Hamas is still relevant, but some things have changed for now. The disappointment of the Palestinian public over the fact that the political path didn’t actually lead to the establishment of a state led Abu Mazen to seek recognition of a Palestinian state on Nov. 29, despite the opposition of the United States and Israel (and only seven other states who opposed the move). At the same time, Abu Mazen began making speeches in which the “popular struggle” motif was prominent. He has recently brought Jibril Rajoub close to him, who in addition to his role as the head of the Palestinian Football Federation, has begun to organization protest activities against the occupation, which employ the strategies of the Ra’is [“president” in Arabic, a reference Yasser Arafat]. Against the backdrop of all of this, acts of popular terror have multiplied in the territories in recent times.
The latest developments are also directly linked to operation “Pillar of Defense”: We can tell ourselves until the end of time that Hamas was dealt a “serious blow” and that the operation’s tactical objectives were achieved. From the perspective of a vast majority of the Palestinian public, Hamas won big-time. It achieved objectives including the cancelation of the “perimeter” (the strip of land 300 meters wide that lies west of the fence, which wraps around the Gaza Strip, into which Israel has forbidden entry since “Cast Lead”), and the partial lifting of the economic siege through the firing of missiles on the Israeli home front. The euphoria surrounding the arrival of Khaled Meshaal, for the celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the organization’s establishment, only demonstrates its strength following the operation.
On the other hand, Fatah, also in Judea and Samaria, is in trouble. The wider public is calling on Palestinian security forces to stop cooperating with Israel. The pressure will only increase in the near future, under the premise that it is necessary to realize the recognition of Palestine as the 194th state in the UN — in which it is a member.
The decision of Palestinian security forces to stop acting against Hamas in recent days is not official, but is happening in practice. It is already being manifested in a halt to the arrests of terrorists (the IDF for its part is continuing to act against terror, all the time and everywhere). Hamas, for its part, has released Fatah representatives from its prisons in Gaza. This is against the backdrop of reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas, which will come at the expense of security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The bottom line is that the IDF and the Shin Bet believe that a new era is upon Judea and Samaria. How much will violence in the territories rise? Are we at the start of a third intifada? Not so fast, but the IDF has started to formulate operational and training plans ahead of the possibility that violence in Judea and Samaria will continue to rise in coming weeks and months. The objective will be to leave the Judea and Samaria sector as secondary as possible from a security perspective — but that’s not up to us alone.