The three-week rocket, mortar and missile attack on southern Israel by Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip might have been caused by trigger-happy Palestinians, some experts say.

“In politics, people think everything is a matter of deliberation and policy and the attainment of objectives,” said Hillel Frisch, an associate professor in the departments of political science and Middle East History at Bar-Ilan University. “But often in conflict situations a lot of it has to do with tit-for-tat. Hamas wants to maintain a low level of violence and uses Islamic Jihad – a group of professional terrorists – to do that.”

Occasionally, Frisch added, “discipline lapses and Islamic Jihad shoots more than expected and Israel reacts.”

The escalation of violence ended only after it became “clear to both sides that it is not worth escalating even more,” he said.

But before an uneasy cease-fire took hold Monday, a Palestinian missile attack on an Israeli school bus critically wounded a 16-year-old boy. That prompted the Israeli Air Force to launch a major response against Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists who were firing from mobile launch pads set up in the civilian neighborhoods of Gaza. Israel reported that 18 Palestinians, including a number of civilians, were killed. In the barrage of 120 terrorist rockets and missiles that followed, Israel’s new Iron Dome anti-missile system was put to use for the first time and it reportedly shot down nine missiles that were headed for populated areas.

Frisch said that although Hamas wants to keep the violence in Gaza at a low level, “it has to show it is still resisting” by carrying out the recent terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank community of Itamar, where five members of the Fogel family were brutally murdered in their sleep.
Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan, pointed out that although Iron Dome “adds another capability in an ongoing struggle, it is not going to solve all the problems. There are no game changers.”

He said that there has been some discussion about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making a major speech to help re-launch peace talks with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Were he to deliver it, Steinberg said, it would be to try to help Netanyahu “recapture the initiative rather than being responsive” to developments.

“There have been discussions in the last two years about ways to break the deadlock and there may be a minor move [regarding Israeli troop redeployment in the West Bank], but it is not going to solve all the problems. People will think of the Itamar murders and others, and say such moves make them more vulnerable. So I don’t think he can do [much]. I’m not saying it is a non-starter, but I wouldn’t expect it [an IDF pull-back] to be extensive. It will be primarily symbolic.”

“Nobody has a solution for Gaza and there is absolutely no prospect for a sudden agreement between Fatah and Hamas” to form a united front, Steinberg added.

Despite the recent terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Itamar, Yossi Alpher, a political analyst and co-editor of the Israeli-Palestinian Internet dialogue bitterlemons.org, said terrorism in Israel and the West Bank has “radically dropped as a result of improved economic and security conditions” in the West Bank.

And until a few weeks ago, he pointed out, “things had been relatively quiet in Gaza” since the 2009 war.

“Israel has relaxed its economic blockade of the Gaza Strip because it understands that the economic blockade had been counterproductive in the sense that it was designed to bring down Hamas and cause Palestinians in Gaza to pressure Hamas,” Alpher explained. “Israel had been severely criticized internationally for inflicting collective punishment, so it makes sense to relax the restrictions and Israel had had good marks for that.”

A survey of 800 registered American voters released this week by The Israel Project found that 61 percent believe Israel is making efforts to achieve peace and that 53 percent believe the Palestinians are making “not much” or “no” effort.

One of the pollsters, Neil Newhouse, said the survey found that “Israel’s image remains strong and [even] inched up in the last couple of months. … Its image is strongest among Republicans, older voters, Conservatives and those living in the South and West.”

Despite the recent escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip, Israel’s coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories reported this week that his office had facilitated the transfer of 3,656 truckloads of food and medical supplies to the Gaza Strip.

That announcement coincided with the release of a 41-page report by Israel that detailed the government’s efforts in 2010 to support and develop the Palestinian economy and socio-economic structure. The report to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, the principal policy-level body that coordinates development assistance to the Palestinian people, said the Palestinian economy grew by 8 percent in the West Bank and by 15 percent in the Gaza Strip over 2009.

“Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza contributed greatly to this growth,” it said. “Increased Palestinian sales to Israel, a higher volume of commercial goods shipped from the West Bank via the land crossings to Israel and abroad, growing numbers of tourists visiting the West Bank [49 percent], and increased construction are all additional indications of the growth of the Palestinian economy. …

“Today, there is freedom of movement throughout the West Bank, trade with Israel is growing, and all economic indicators show improvement.”

The report pointed out, however, that Palestinian growth continues to be fueled by public expenditure that remains “heavily reliant on foreign aid.” Growth was measured by a 23 percent increase in the number of building permits issued by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, a 38 percent increase in the import of vehicles into the West Bank, and a 5.4 percent increase in the number of Palestinians employed by Israelis compared with 2009.

For the first time since 2000, 200 Israeli tour guides were permitted by the Palestinian Authority to enter Bethlehem and Jericho, substantially increasing the number of tourists to the West Bank – a 57 percent increase in Bethlehem and a 55 percent increase in Jericho alone. Last year, the Palestinian Authority took steps to promote the construction of eight new hotels in Bethlehem and two in Ramallah; there are currently 94 throughout the West Bank.

Regarding the Gaza Strip, Israel said: “It is clear that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. There are established mechanisms available to all to ship both humanitarian aid and commercial goods into Gaza. Israel has approved 121 projects led by the international community, and the flow of all commercial and humanitarian goods continues. …”

But the report said Israel is “gravely concerned” about the recent rocket and mortar shell attacks. It said Israel’s interception last month of a vessel “carrying tons of illegal arms and ammunition to Gaza, and the ongoing smuggling of weapons through the tunnels [from Egypt], signal proliferation efforts by Hamas, sponsored by Iran.”

The report said also that Israel wishes to resume peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority to achieve agreement on a two-state solution. And it said it is working to upgrade Palestinian financial services, water and sewage infrastructure, its legal system and rule of law, agriculture and electricity network.
“These steps were accompanied by intensified security coordination between the authorities on both sides,” it said, adding that the recent terror attacks and barrage of missiles against civilians in southern Israel “serve as painful reminders of just how distant real security remains.”

The report was to be presented to major aid donor countries in Brussels, during which Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said in prepared remarks that the Palestinians were now ready for statehood.

He was to present facts and figures to show how foreign aid had helped the Palestinians in such fields as health, education, water, energy, justice and security.

“I believe that our governing institutions have now reached a high state of readiness to assume all the responsibilities that will come with full sovereignty on the entire Palestinian occupied territory,” he said.

But he added that this can be achieved only if Israel’s military occupation comes to an end.