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The Long History, and High Costs, of Palestinian Intifadas

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A Palestinian uses a slingshot during a protest near Ramallah in the West Bank, May 16, 2021. (Ammar Awad/Reuters) For Palestinian leaders who choose to promote them, intifadas are often self-defeating.

‘The past is never dead,” William Faulkner famously observed. “It’s not even past.” When it comes to Palestinian politics, Faulkner’s quip holds true. The recent fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian Islamist groups — the fifth such conflict in 15 years — has concluded. After-action reports and assessments are incoming. But if the past is any indication, the hostilities look likely to change the Palestinian political landscape.

The recent conflict was, in truth, two conflicts. The first was between the Jewish state and Iranian proxy groups such as Hamas and got the lion’s share of attention from the press and pundits. The second, however, was no less important: an internecine conflict between Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, which dominates the Palestinian National Authority that controls Palestinian portions of the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. This conflict, while less bombastic, is no less consequential.

In January of this year, Abbas, a deeply unpopular octogenarian, promised to hold elections for the first time in more than 15 years. It was a poorly calculated move meant to appeal to the Biden administration. Abbas even permitted Hamas, which had fought a brief but bloody war against Fatah in the summer of 2006, to stand in the elections. Yet, Abbas’s decision to allow Hamas to participate was counterintuitive.

The Hamas–Fatah War of 2006 was itself the result of Abbas’s holding elections at the request of the U.S. — elections that Fatah lost. In that war’s aftermath, Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, which it has used as a base to attack Israel ever since.

The ensuing years have seen multiple wars between Israel and Hamas, as well as a steady decline in support for Abbas. The PA president has grown increasingly authoritarian in response, shutting down the Palestinian Legislative Council and imprisoning and threatening his critics and rivals. When polls showed that Abbas’s divided Fatah movement was likely to

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