A RASH of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis has persuaded some on both sides that a third intifada, or uprising, is getting underway. If so, it looks very different from the two that preceded it. Those were planned and funded by the Palestinian leadership and driven by militant groups based in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This time most attacks have been carried out by residents of East Jerusalem, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Israeli government. Almost all the assailants were teenagers armed with knives rather than bombs or suicide belts. Eight Israelis and about 30 Palestinians have been killed, small numbers compared with the carnage of the previous conflicts.
What’s worrying is that the attackers have no organization or guides; they are “lone wolves” acting on their own rage, inspiration from social media or the examples of those who preceded them. That makes them much harder to detect and stop, and it means that the increasingly severe measures Israel is adopting, including the deployment of troops and the establishment of checkpoints on roads leading out of Arab neighborhoods, may succeed only in further raising tensions.
Particularly counterproductive have been the fatal shootings of a dozen of the attackers by Israeli police or bystanders. When two Palestinian boys aged 13 and 15 attacked a 13-year-old Israeli, police shot and killed the 15-year-old, and the 13-year-old Palestinian was struck by a car — an incident that Palestinian leaders have been trumpeting. A group of Israeli human rights organizations pointed out in a statement that Israeli “politicians and senior police officers . . . have openly called for the extrajudicial killings of suspects.”
They are not the only inciters. As was the case when another wave of attacks prompted talk of an intifada a year ago, leaders of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas are doing their best to inspire more violence, while secular president Mahmoud Abbas has adopted an ambivalent position. Mr. Abbas has publicly opposed violent attacks, but he also propagated the falsehood that helped to trigger the violence, that Israel is planning to change the status of the Old City enclosure where two of Islam’s most revered sites are located. In a television address he denounced the “execution” of the 13-year-old boy, even though he is alive in an Israeli hospital.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is railing at Mr. Abbas for “lying,” but the more troubling reality is that the 80-year-old Palestinian leader, who remains in office six years after his elected term expired, has become irrelevant. Having rejected the Obama administration’s peace framework last year and failed in his effort to win a U.N. Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood, he lacks the authority either to inspire or deter young militants. Nor are there leaders in Jerusalem; Israeli authorities have prevented their emergence in recent years.
Last year’s violence fizzled after calming interventions by outside parties, including Jordan and the United States; they should try again. One remedy would be the resumption of serious negotiations on Palestinian statehood. But with Mr. Abbas inert and relations poisoned between the White House and Mr. Netanyahu, that will have to await a fresh set of leaders. On the Palestinian side, in particular, they cannot come too soon.