The Palestinian territories are descending into chaos, but many in Washington seem unconcerned. The Palestinians in the West Bank have too much to lose from a new uprising, some are arguing, given the recent moderate improvements in their daily lives. Others assert that the Palestinian Authority Security Forces, trained under American supervision, will prevent the Palestinians from making the mistakes of 1987 and 2000. Yet the dynamics of Palestinian politics indicate that a third intifada is likely to erupt in the near future. If history is any guide, the Palestinian leadership of the West Bank--whether it includes Mahmoud Abbas or not-may again look to a violence to improve its sagging domestic popularity.
Throughout contemporary Palestinian history, spilling Israeli blood has often been the best way for competing political factions to burnish their nationalist credentials. Consider, for example, the founding of Hamas. In the 1980s, Islamic Jihad became popular among Palestinians because of their attacks on Israelis--to the extent that they began siphoning off supporters from the Palestine branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. In order to compete, the Brotherhood formed the Islamic Resistance Movement (better known by its Arabic acronym, Hamas). By most measures, the strategy worked: Hamas is now a mass movement that controls the Gaza Strip and enjoys deep support in the West Bank.