The Second Intifada Revisited

Whilst I believe that it would have been possible to have resolved the Israeli Palestinian conflict after the first Intifada ended in 1993 I would like to look back at the devastation that occurred during the second intifada.

We will start with looking at the failure of the Oslo peace process and turn to the work of political scientist, Ethan Bueno de Mesquita1 who has written extensively on International Relations.

He addresses the question of what causes the increase in terrorist attacks after governments make concessions, and why governments make concessions in the first place? He poses that this occurs because it is moderate terrorists that accept concessions and therefore leaving only the extremists in control. Governments have a commitment problem when they make concessions, as they do not know whether the terrorist’s will commit to their agreement once they lay down their weapons.

A government commits to making concessions because it increases its probability of fighting the remaining terrorist groups who do not accept the concessions by taking those who have out of the equation and using them to contain and fight those remaining factions on behalf of the state using the resources and aid granted to them by the government. The ability of the moderate terrorists to succeed in counter-terror through the aid of the government resolves the commitment problem of the government with making the concessions.

He applies this model to the Israeli Palestinian conflict and shows how Israel underestimated the P.L.O’s ability to fight Hamas and Islamic Jihad as a result of the Oslo accords and not being able to meet their requirement to control Islamic Jihad and Hamas and as a result we saw this manifested itself in the launching of the second Intifada, as well as Israel being uncertain as to whether or not the P.L.O were deliberately violating the agreement and continuing to support terror with the aid given to them by Israel, which is the popular Israeli belief for why the second intifada occurred. His model assumed that the government knows whether or not the moderates have the ability to control the extremists.

The extremist group can choose to attack the moderates in an attempt to undermine their power and ability to fulfil their part of the bargain and leave them powerless, the government would then probably not fulfil its promises and the extremists gain in their goal to spoil and stop the negotiations leading to a settlement and the conflict continues. This was much the case during the Fatah Hamas conflict in Gaza in 2007 where Hamas came out victorious and of course Israel did not keep its obligations that it would have made to Fatah and imposed a blockade and this problem pretty much still persists today as the root of the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

It was during the second intifada that we no longer saw images of Palestinians throwing stones at Israeli soldiers or peacefully protesting, in defiance of the Israeli authorities in the territories but now we saw a form of terrorism used by the Palestinians against Israel for the first time. The phenomena of suicide bombers, which was employed first by Hizbullah in Lebanon before it was later adopted by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

According to Journalist for Israel’s Yediot Ahronot, Ronen Bergman, in his book The Secret war with Iran, the 30-year covert struggle for control of a ‘Rogue’ state, he notes:

“Shin Bet, refers to suicide bombers as the “poor man’s smart bomb.” They are very effective smart bombs, alas. No effective way of combating suicide terrorism has been found, and suicide bombing has had a decisive influence over political processes around the world. Attempts to profile suicide bombers are doomed to failure – the bombers come in all sorts, from poor to wealthy, illiterate to educated.”2

(Bergman, R 2008:74)

This is how many for a long time viewed Suicidal terrorism, that it could not be deterred, contained and was completely random and irrational. But according to Robert A. Pape of the University of Chicago’s study in The Strategic Logic of Suicidal Terrorism3 shows how suicidal terrorism is not random, irrational and can be deterred.

There are many different forms of terrorism:

Demonstrative terrorism is aimed at enlisting supporters, particularly from outsiders who may then exert pressure, and draw attention to their suffering or grievance. The PLO used this form of terrorism in the 1970’s when it conducted hostage taking on airplane hijackings, including the unsuccessful famous ‘Raid on Entebbe’ in Uganda and the Munich Olympic massacre carried out by Black September. The main objective is not to cause serious damage or harm but to draw attention and gain sympathy.

Destructive terrorism aims to gain support from its own people and to inflict real harm and punishment on its target regardless of whether or not they lose supporters in the international community.

Suicide terrorism is the worst form of terrorism as not only like Destructive terrorism does it aim to inflict harm on the population of its target at the risk of losing support from abroad but it also risks losing the support of its own people.

Suicide terrorism cannot be explained through the ideology of various terrorist groups such as Religious fanaticism. But it is used as a tactic to coerce liberal democracies to make territorial concessions. As a result of many such attacks, many of these groups have achieved their political objectives through this method, and therefore come to the conclusion as the strategy that works. This includes Israel withdrawing from Lebanon in 1985 and Gaza, the Sri Lankan government made concessions to the Tamil Tigers to create an independent Tamil state in 1990, or for US and French forces to leave Lebanon in 1983.

Pape discusses how previous studies in Suicide terrorist attacks have looked at factors such as the character, lifestyles and possible motives of individual suicide terrorists, for example their age, socio-economic status, religious indoctrination or psychological predispositions that may have contributed to ones motivation to commit what is perceived as an irrational action. Whereas, in time we have learned that there is a broad spectrum of possible recruits for suicide attackers that include men and women, educated and uneducated, single and married, young and old. That has challenged the previous credibility of their conclusions.

To find rational explanations one needs to rather study and analyze the act of suicide terrorism from the perspective of the terrorist organization rather than that of only the individual terrorist and then we can see that from this perspective, suicide terrorism which is perceived as irrational, is in fact rational when viewed from this perspective as a tactic as a means of imposing sanctions on the target population to coerce it into changing its policy and making concessions and changing the status quo.

He argues that suicide attacks are not random, but are organised in clusters to achieve a political goal and that organizations have stopped attacks when they have achieved their goals, or feel that an attack at a given time may be threatening to them achieving that goal.

Moderate attacks have led to moderate concessions by states but he argues that ambitious attacks are likely to not achieve any goal at all and that more recently states have come down very aggressively at times to punish those who look for higher concessions from more ambitious attacks and that terrorism generally looks to inflict low to medium punishments on the civilian population.

Containing such attacks should involves a state reducing the terrorist organizations confidence in their ability to carry out such attacks, by investing in border fences and homeland security so that the terrorists do not find it easy or an effective means of forcing the other side to make concessions.

Suicide terrorism is a coercive strategy. Between states, usually between a strong state and a weak state the strong state can coerce the weaker state by two main strategies, punishment and denial. Punishment entails the raising of the risks and the costs for the target state to the point that the weaker state is coerced not to fight. Denial involves the stronger state demonstrating to the weaker state that the weaker state cannot successfully win the dispute in spite of all its efforts.

Terrorism is an attempt by the weaker side to coerce the stronger side. In this context, the strategy of denial is not possible due to weaker military capabilities. It must rely on the strategy of punishment. It seeks to increase the costs on the stronger state acting as a sanction and a pressure to force the stronger state to change its policy on the issue in dispute.

Democracies are targeted for suicide terrorism as they are believed to be soft targets with a low pain threshold and also as a result of their political system, the public have a greater ability to influence government policies. The population are vulnerable to punishment and pain inflicted on them and also feel that since the Second World War democratic governments have been more restrained in their will to retaliate if it may entail a large number of civilian deaths. Even if the stronger state has the capability to destroy the entire terrorist communities population.

Taking this into account, Israel successfully managed to deter the suicide bombing that caused significant harm and terror in every day life for Israelis when it decided to build what it calls the Security fence and what Palestinians call the Apartheid wall.

The legality of the wall has caused a lot of dispute both in Israel and in the international community primarily on the question of where the barrier is placed and whether it is a supposed to be a border or not. Parts of the wall have cut into Palestinian land and divided communities from one another and from their fields. And have encompassed Israel’s settlements. It became apparent from the fact that there was a fence around Gaza and that few suicide bombers had been coming from Gaza.

I am not sure whether or not Hamas, Islamic Jihad or the Al Aqsa Martyrs brigade have continued to attempt to send suicide bombers across the border into Israel but failed due to being successfully prevented from doing so by Israeli checkpoints. But what is certain is that since the near completion of the construction of the wall is that we are no longer seeing suicide bombings on the same scale that we were in 2000 to 2004, it was around this time that we started to see an increase in a new method of terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians, of rocket attacks coming from Gaza and southern Lebanon.

Whilst Israel successfully managed to deter suicidal terrorism, she is now again in a position where she is fighting terrorism in its destructive form, against rocket fire. Israel’s security barrier has shattered the perception of the invincibility of the suicide bomber. But now anti-Israel terrorist groups have not only regained more public support due to the decrease in suicide attacks which was an act so diabolical that defenders of the Palestinian cause would have a very hard time trying to justify on moral grounds. Neither did it have the desired affect of coercing Israelis to put pressure on their government to concede any territory to the Palestinians; in fact it achieved the opposite. It made many Israelis less willing, more distrusting and fearful of what they may be capable of doing if they had their own state. And was also viewed as unjustified due to the indiscriminate nature of such attacks, that intentionally were aimed at killing ordinary civilians, including women, children, tourists, Jews, non-Jews, regardless of their actions, beliefs or experiences.

Israel’s current security dilemmas are now to do with preventing these groups from not only firing missiles into Israel, but from them obtaining them and particularly from obtaining longer-range missiles than they currently possess. Israel recently accused Syria of re-arming Hizbullah with more advanced weaponry than before.

Gaza is still suffering a humanitarian crisis, which has been the main concern of the international community. The two main fronts causing the most amount of danger to Israel is that of the failure of the international community’s sanctions on Iran to prevent them from continuing their nuclear program. The root of the strength of these terrorist groups is coming from Mahmoud Ahmedinijads regime in Teheran. Israel is chopping off branches on a tree poking it in the face when it is confronting Hamas and Hizbullah. The power and determination of these groups are increased by the Iranian defiance of the demands of the International community.

The Obama administration whilst I respect its intentions to make peace and feel that the pressure he is putting on both sides to return to negotiations, but where it is going wrong is in understanding the theory of ‘Ripeness’ in conflict resolution.

William Zartman explains this as:

“…the key to successful conflict resolution lies in the timing of efforts for resolution. Parties resolve their conflict only when they are ready to do so – when alternative, usually unilateral, means of achieving a satisfactory result are blocked, and the parties find themselves in an uncomfortable and costly predicament. At that point they grab onto proposals that have usually been in the air for a long time and that only now appear to be attractive.”4

(Zartman, W. 2000)

Neither side is essentially ready to resolve the conflict. The theory implies that both sides must be equally suffering and paying very high costs that continuing the conflict is no longer an option as both see very slim chances of winning in the end without paying a price neither side is willing to pay. From a military perspective Israel in some ways would quite happily continue managing the conflict the way that it is before considering the idea of compromising on Jerusalem for example. The Iranian threat has had little impact on Israel feeling a more urgent need to resolve the Israeli Palestinian conflict, for based on the words of Ahmedinijad the threat will still be there whether there is a Palestinian state or not.

For Palestinians, militarily for the most part, the battle against Israel has been learned, they cannot defeat Israel militarily, not on their own at least, and they no longer have Egypt or Jordan continuing a rejectionist policy to Israel and Syria is also talking about making peace with Israel.

For the Palestinians the weapon they have that Israel doesn’t have is diplomacy, public opinion in their favour and of course time. For Israel the clock is ticking, on the issue of demography the Palestinians have the advantage that in time they will be the majority, Israel has been making efforts to change this trend, either through Aliyah or an increase in the Jewish birth rate, primarily in the Charedi community.

The Israeli and Palestinian leaders are simply going through the motions of saying they want to resume negotiations putting up pre-conditions and stalling. The time is just not ripe for successfully achieving peace. What is likely to occur soon on the Palestinian side is that if building in the settlements continues, it is possible that the Palestinian terrorist groups will learn from the Second intifada that the indiscriminate suicide bombings did not help their cause much and achieved little, and that a third intifada may be launched only this time the target will not be inside Israel’s pre 1967 borders but will be specifically directed against the settlements in an attempt to drive them out through fear and terror.

The boycott of West bank products from Israeli settlements has already begun, even in Britain on products made in the West bank the label will clearly indicate that they are from a settlement allowing people to either support the settlements by buying them or not to by boycotting them. If such efforts are successful, Israel will find that encouraging settlement building is a costly effort with little to gain from it and not worth either the government or foreign investment in the area. And if terrorist efforts on the settlements are successful it will make living there for many undesirable.

The other possibility is that we wont necessarily see a new round of violence in the form of an uprising, but the opposite. Palestinians will start to become less violent and more moderate, and call for a one state solution. This is Israel’s worst nightmare, what Avner Yaniv called the ‘Palestinian peace offensive.’ Arguing that the continuation of the building of Israeli settlements has made partition impossible now and that the only viable solution is to grant them equal rights and citizenship, where they will be the majority sooner or later and Israel will no longer be a Jewish state. We see steps in this direction already as the terminology when referring to the conflict is beginning to change. We are now hearing the word ‘Occupation’ less and ‘Israeli Apartheid’ more, as some are attempting to redefine the very nature of the conflict as not being one country occupying the land of another but of one country where one group denies basic rights to another.

Many in Israel are aware of these issues and feel that Israel needs to make peace fast because of it. But this coupled with the fact that Israeli’s on a day to day basis are not living in the kind of fear that they were during the second intifada means that on one level the conditions are ripe for making peace and on another level they most certainly are not. For those who care about Israeli democracy the clock is ticking. But the Palestinians are in exactly the same boat; militarily they have been defeated and continue to be defeated. The United States recently approved funding for blanketing most of Israel with Arrow anti-missile installations to be complete by the end of the decade. Israel will continue to find ways to prevent and deter the Palestinians efforts to terrorize Israelis.

The formula would suggest that the Palestinians need to realize that time is not on their side and that that perception too can be destroyed, and that Israeli’s need to suffer more in their daily lives in order to make concessions, whether that be from the threat of terrorism or from a decrease in economic prosperity and that the only way out of this situation is for both sides to make painful compromises.


1 Bueno de Mesquita, E (2005) Conciliation, Counterterrorism, and Patterns of Terrorist Violence, The IO Foundation

2 Bergman, R (2008) The Secret war with Iran, the 30-year covert struggle for control of a ‘Rogue’ state, Oneworld Publications Ltd: Great Britain

3 Pape, R (2003) The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, American Political Science Review: United States

4 Zartman, W (2000) International Conflict Resolution after the Cold War, The National Academy of Sciences:

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