Don't call it an intifada. Not yet, anyway.
Sure, violence has erupted recently throughout the West Bank. The injuries and deaths of Palestinian protestors continue to make headlines. Palestinian and Israeli commentators are warning of a return to chaos. Some are outright cheering for it. But officials from both sides of the Green Line are reluctant to call it an "intifada," for fear of letting the proverbial genie out of the bottle. Instead, they carefully wield such terms as "popular resistance," "rioters," or just "the situation."
What's in a name? The term intifada was popularized when the Palestinians launched their first uprising against Israel from 1987 to 1990. Translated as "shaking off," that Palestinian intifada was replete with rock-throwing, tire-burning, civil disobedience, and low-level violence against Israel in an attempt to gain independence. By contrast, the second intifada, from 2000 to 2005, was an all-out war, with Iranian proxies Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Fatah's Tanzim and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and other groups carrying out terrorist attacks against Israeli civilian and military targets.
These two campaigns to decouple from the Israelis differed greatly in tactics, but both were unquestionably embraced by the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people alike. We don't see that kind of cohesion today, and that, essentially, is why we won't yet call it an intifada.
In fact, according to a recent poll, 65 percent of Palestinians oppose a new intifada. And so does Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has called upon his security services to keep a lid on the violence.
Abbas, however, has not entirely closed the door on a new uprising. The Jerusalem Post reports that he recently reached an agreement with the rival Hamas faction to keep things on a low flame. The two factions, whose leaders are generally prone to disagreement on just about everything, have apparently settled on the term "peaceful intifada."
This strategy apparently includes demonstrations against the West Bank security barrier, Israeli detention policies, and Israeli settlements, as well as more creative Palestinian civil disobedience, including the erection of "outposts" such as Bab Al-Shams in the disputed E1 area and others since.
The Israelis have called upon the Palestinian Authority to unequivocally end the unrest, but that may not happen right away. Abbas knows that, ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to the region in March, the uncertain security situation (not an intifada, mind you) is his ace in the hole.
Abbas's rationale for keeping the unrest on a low flame is simple. Rather than asking the Palestinian leaer for potentially painful concessions at the negotiating table with Israel, Obama might now come to Ramallah with one respectful request: maintain calm.