Deadly attacks by Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have increased in the past month, undermining the previous sense of relative calm in the area.
In the most recent attack on Thursday evening, a Palestinian driving a tractor broke into an Israeli army base and attempted to run over a soldier before being shot dead, according to army officials.
It was the fifth attack against soldiers or settlers in the last month, including two infiltrations of settlements, with the wounding of a nine-year-old girl and a settler killed in an axe attack.
Two members of the military have been killed, one an off-duty soldier who was lured by a Palestinian he knew to the northern West Bank and another shot while on duty in Hebron. Four Palestinians have died in Israeli incursions in the West Bank since late August.
The attacks are seen in the Israeli military as being the work of individuals without organisational backing and in some cases appear motivated by criminal rather than nationalist factors. In all of 2012, there were no lethal Palestinian attacks in the West Bank, the area Israel captured in 1967 that is divided between sections of complete Israeli military control and Palestinian self-rule. All of the violence has taken place in areas under army control.
“It’s a vast increase over last year and it is of great concern,” said army spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner. “There is no prior intelligence to an individual waking up in the morning and saying, ‘I’ll take a tractor and storm a base’, so it’s difficult to prevent.”
Still, the army is not at present concerned that the attacks, which have thus far not been accompanied by street protests, could morph into a third Palestinian intifada uprising, Lerner said. “Our current analysis is that there is an interest on the Palestinian Authority side and our side to prevent an escalation,” he said.
But Palestinians say that with current peace talks appearing to go nowhere and no end in sight to occupation, the potential exists for a larger eruption in the West Bank.
“This violence is being carried out by people completely fed up with the continuation of Israeli repression and it shows that we could get to a situation of a new eruption of violence,” said Qais Abdul Kareem, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. “Another intifada doesn’t start by spontaneous violent actions by individuals. It’s a gradual accumulation of discontent that translates into actions in the street. We are moving in that direction if Israel continues sabotaging the peace process.”
In particular, Mr Abdul Kareem pointed to remarks Thursday night by the ardently pro-settler Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon that there is no room for a Palestinian state.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson countered that Mr Danon’s stance “does not mean there is no deal to be done. We are very serious about progress in the negotiations but both sides will have to make compromises.”
Mr Hirschson added that the recent Palestinian bloodshed “doesn’t help the negotiations. It increases public scepticism about the good faith of the Palestinians.”
Also harming the atmosphere is continued destruction of Palestinian property in settler violence. Twenty-eight olive trees were reportedly hacked up in Turmus Aya in the northern West Bank Thursday. More than a thousand olive trees belonging to Palestinians have been burned, uprooted or otherwise damaged in the last month, according to the dovish Rabbis for Human Rights.
The tractor attack was carried out by a resident of East Jerusalem, Yunis al-Abeidi, whose brother had carried out a similar attack outside a shopping mall in Jerusalem in 2009. The army said in a statement that Mr al-Abeidi had attempted to run over a soldier ‘’numerous times’’ and damaged military vehicles before he was shot. Police yesterday arrested his brothers and then released them after several hours, Palestinian sources said.