Israeli-Palestinian violence: What you need to know

Story highlights

  • Security situation in Jerusalem and West Bank has been deteriorating since 2014 when three Israeli teens were killed by Hamas militants
  • Spate of knife attacks by Palestinians are a way of scaring ordinary Israelis despite expensive, high-tech security
  • Third intifada unlikely because, although Palestinians resent 48-year occupation, they remember dark days of last uprising

Jerusalem (CNN)Over the past few weeks, violence in the decades long Israeli-Palestinian conflict has flared up.

Bloodshed is not unusual in this part of the Middle East but this particular wave of aggression -- stabbings as well as a shooting and driving into crowds -- is very different from rocket attacks or the orchestrated suicide bombings of the past.
    The attacks have prompted widespread talk of a third Palestinian intifada or uprising.
    Here's what you need to know.

    What started the latest round of violence? Why now?

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    The latest upsurge in violence in Jerusalem started with two Israelis being stabbed to death by a Palestinian in the Old City -- which was followed by a series of stabbings and other attacks.
    A particular point of contention is the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram Al-Sharif, in the Old City.
    In an unwritten arrangement in place since Israel took control of all of Jerusalem in 1967, Jews are not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, where the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock are situated.
    Increasingly in recent years, hardline Jewish activists have demanded greater access to the Temple Mount and right-wing politicians have called for rights of Jews to pray there.
    This has sparked widespread concerns among Palestinians that the status quo is being violated, and will end in the division of the Temple Mount.
    Over the past few years, tensions have coincided with the Jewish High Holy Days in the autumn. This year, the holiday coincided with the Muslim's Eid-al-Adha holiday and tensions rose even higher.

    But security has been getting worse for a while, hasn't it?

    In fact, the security situation in Jerusalem and the West Bank has been more and more tense since 2014 when three Israeli teenage settlers were kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank by militants from Hamas.
    A few weeks later, Jewish extremists kidnapped and murdered a 17-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem. This further inflamed tensions and set off clashes in historically Arab East Jerusalem. A spate of attacks on Israeli civilians by East Jerusalem Palestinians wracked the city later in the autumn.
    On July 31, in the West Bank, Israeli settlers burned a Palestinian house in a so-called "price-tag attack," killing an 18-month-old toddler and his parents. On October 1, an Israeli couple were shot dead in front of their four children near the Palestinian city of Nablus. Israeli police have arrested a Hamas cell they believe were behind the attack.
    All this comes against a backdrop of what many Palestinians see as unending, humiliating Israeli occupation in place since the 1967 war when Israel conquered all of Jerusalem, Gaza, the West Bank and the Syrian Golan Heights.

    Are these knife attacks a new brand of organized terror?

    Even Israeli intelligence officials are not blaming any of these attacks on any of the Palestinian militant groups or factions like Islamic Jihad or Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades or Hamas. Hamas has praised the attackers, but not claimed responsibility.
    It seems that many of the attackers are motivated by what they see on Facebook and Twitter where photos and video of attacks are posted.
    The suicide bombings that were hallmark of the Second Intifada required an infrastructure -- sourcing bombers, making and providing them with explosives and getting them into place to carry out the attacks. Israeli forces were able to break up much of this infrastructure by the end of that uprising.
    Israel has invested a huge amount of money in developing an intelligence network -- including collaborators and informers -- in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, building a separation barrier (dubbed the "Apartheid Wall" by the Palestinians) around the West Bank to stop potential suicide bombers, and developing the Iron Dome missile defense system to intercept rockets firing out Gaza.
    But, it's easy to buy a knife in Jerusalem. Knifings are the ultimate low-tech response to Israel's high-tech, high-cost security. They are a simple way to accomplish the same thing the suicide bombers did: scare the hell out of ordinary Israelis.

    How are Palestinians and Israelis reacting?

    Ordinary Israelis are in a state of alarm. They are taking measures for protection: there are dramatically fewer people on the streets. Here, Israelis are reconsidering the routes they take to work -- driving rather than taking the bus or light rail.
    There are more Israelis walking around with handguns and more people applying for weapon licenses. Jerusalem's Mayor Nir Barkat called on licensed gun owners to carry them. Palestinians are also scared; many more of them have died in reprisal attacks and shootings by security forces.
    But there is bitterness and hatred, the likes of which I've never seen.
    During the Second Intifada, which ran from 2000-2005, there was a lot of fear and mutual distrust but there was still a memory of when people did coexist going back to the early 1990s.
    For the younger generation of Palestinians and Israelis, that's absolutely disappeared. After the Second Intifada and three wars in Gaza all they associate the other side with is violence.

    What are politicians doing?

    In short, a lot of words and not much action.
    Politically, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under a lot of pressure to respond more aggressively.
    One politician told him to "stop stuttering and start acting." An opinion poll published over the weekend found that 73% of Israelis are dissatisfied with the government's handling of the latest wave of violence. They want a harsher response to the attacks.
    On the Palestinian side, leader Mahmoud Abbas, now 80 years old, doesn't have a lot of public support. He's seen as old, ineffective and soft on Israel. He has called for de-escalation, but other Palestinian leaders don't seem willing to follow his line.

    What happened to the peace process? Weren't the Palestinians supposed to get their own state?

    The peace process went into intensive care during the Second Intifada and successive U.S. presidents have time and time again made attempts to revive it.
    But under Ariel Sharon, who was prime minister from 2001 to early 2006, and Benjamin Netanyahu from 2009 until now, the Israeli government has been at best lukewarm about the peace process.
    The last attempt to re-launch the peace process by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in the summer of 2013 went nowhere.
    A major stumbling block is Israel's continued building of settlements in the West Bank. Estimates by Israeli human rights group B'Tselem say there are almost 550,000 settlers living in exclusively Jewish communities in the West Bank. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, something Israel disputes.
    Kerry has said he will travel to the Middle East to help calm the situation, although given the bitterness between U.S. President Barack Obama and Netanyahu over his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal it's questionable as to how diplomatically involved the U.S. will want to get.

    Is this likely to turn into a Third Intifada?

    It's unlikely. It's an outburst that will probably subside.
    The Second Intifada took a huge toll on Palestinians' economy and way of life. Many Palestinian youth are too young to remember the darkest days of the uprising -- but their parents remember it, and don't want to go through it again, even if they resent Israel's 48-year-old occupation.
    They don't have the energy to go through years of violence and closures and arrests and deaths and funerals. My worry is that these outbursts will become more and more frequent. They will die down quickly but the mutual hatred will only deepen.