Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1266, (15 - 21 October 2015)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1266, (15 - 21 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Will Jerusalem explode into a third intifada?

Many Palestinians say the recent wave of confrontations in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza is part of a wider and sustained uprising, but Israeli officials seem less concerned, writes Ahmed Al-Sayed

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The escalating mass furore in the West Bank and Jerusalem has reached the Gaza Strip and inside the Green Line (1948 territories), triggering predictions of the start of a massive third Intifada, similar to the Stone Intifada in 1987 and Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000.

Since the start of October, dozens of Palestinians have been killed and hundreds injured by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza Strip. The widespread protests, despite internal Palestinian divisions, confirm the unity of the Palestinian territories.

In response to Israeli assaults on the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque, Palestinians — mostly independent youth — have carried out a series of stabbings and shootings that left five Israelis dead and injured several soldiers and settlers.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu admitted the gravity of the security situation in the West Bank and Jerusalem after the recent rash of stabbings. Key right-wing figures in his cabinet urged Israelis to carry weapons when they leave home.

Israeli media revealed that Israelis are terrified after the rise in the number of attacks, and that 25,000 Israelis have called the police hotline in connection with the assaults.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Palestinians will not be dragged to where Israel wants them to go, and will not use violence. Fatah’s rival, Hamas, declared that Gaza is ready for confrontations in the battle for Jerusalem and supports the escalating confrontation with the occupation.

Recently, on the sidelines of inaugurating a project in Ramallah, Abbas said: “We believe in peace and peaceful popular resistance. It is our right and we must continue as long as there is aggression.”

He added: “We do not assault anyone but we also do not want them to assault us. We also do not want them to encroach on the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque . . . We want peace and our hand will always be stretched out for peace, despite all that we suffer from Israelis.”

In his address at the 70th UN General Assembly session in New York on 30 September, Abbas said that Palestinians “cannot continue honouring agreements signed with Israel as long as Tel Aviv insists on not honouring its part.”

He also noted, “Israel must shoulder all its responsibilities as an occupation authority because the status quo cannot continue.” He did not elaborate on what — or when — the alternative action would be.

Meanwhile, Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), said the Palestinian people will continue to defend themselves to win their freedom and independence.

Erekat, a leading member of Fatah, told the Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen television, “Everyone is asking if there is a third intifada. Our answer is, as long as occupation exists and assassinations, killings and destruction continue, there will be a third and fourth and seventh intifada.”

Erekat holds that Netanyahu and his government are trying to achieve political goals by destroying the two-state solution and the peace process. He added that Netanyahu is similar to Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

“There is no difference between them. Baghdadi is calling for a so-called Islamic state and Netanyahu is calling for a Jewish state,” he said. He accused Netanyahu of inciting religious war by assaulting Al-Aqsa Mosque and other holy sites.

Hamas, which believes in armed resistance and does not recognise Israel, expressed support for Palestinian attacks and confrontations in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. Ismail Haniyeh, deputy chief of Hamas’s politburo, said in last week’s Friday sermon, “Despite the pain, siege and conspiracies, Gaza will not abandon its role in Al-Aqsa Intifada and it is ready for confrontations.”

He continued, “The battle for Jerusalem is our battle and we will not hesitate to be in the right place and do what is needed to support our people and their Intifada in Jerusalem and the West Bank.”

Haniyeh also called for “a Palestinian decision to stop absurd talks and security coordination. Embrace the Intifada because it is our battle . . . We are ready for anything that promotes unity. Delusions about a statelet or an emirate in Gaza must end.”

In an attempt to curb the furore, foil attacks and ease tensions, Netanyahu took a series of dual security and political measures.

Politically, Netanyahu directed occupation police to prevent Knesset members and ministers from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque until further notice. During a cabinet meeting last week, Netanyahu said the holy site is the epicentre of tension and therefore any activities that increase tensions should cease.

Netanyahu also said that for the time being there will not be new construction of settlements, blocked a decision by the Regional Committee for Planning and Construction in Jerusalem to build a government building called Jewel of Israel near the Wailing Wall.

According to the website of Channel 7, a media outlet for settlers, the decision was the direct result of present security conditions. Some members of the committee criticised the decision and described it as surrendering to “terrorism”.

On the security front, Israel deployed three brigades of border guards to bolster police forces in Jerusalem and the 1948 territories. It also created another cyber-crime unit to monitor Palestinian social media.

At a joint news conference with Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon and Interior Minister Gilad Erdan, Netanyahu said, “Security measures will not result in immediate miracle solutions” but added he was confident of victory over “terrorism”.

“We are in the midst of a terrorism wave of knives, Molotovs, rocks and live bullets,” he said. “Most of these attacks are not usual but the result of brutal and lying incitement by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, and several regional countries. At the same time, and even more, by the Islamic movement in Israel.”

He continued, “President Abbas and other Palestinian leaders made statements and lies that ignite feelings because of claims that Israel wants to change the status quo at the holy site. These are unfounded lies.”

Netanyahu accused Abbas of incitement. But Israeli security sources said the Palestinian president is not linked to the escalation and is finding it difficult to control the street. Aman, Israel’s military intelligence, praised Abbas’s “orders to Palestinian security to lower tensions.” According to unnamed sources, “Abbas does not encourage armed resistance and operations . . . [and] gave orders to continue close security coordination.”

Military officials also contradicted the claims of politicians in Netanyahu’s government about Abbas’s role in fuelling tensions. Military officials said Abbas and Palestinian security agencies are preventing a third intifada, and cooperating with Israeli security forces to this end.

Israeli security agencies believe Palestinian security forces are efficiently preventing a further deterioration of conditions through the arrest of instigators and directing demonstrations away from frontlines with the Israeli army.

A senior official in Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, as reported by Haaretz newspaper, told the Netanyahu government that “Abbas doesn’t manipulate or encourage terrorism, and has ordered his security apparatus to prevent such operations as much as possible.”

The Shin Bet official said the northern section of Islamic Movement inside the 1948 borders, and Hamas, are the main instigators behind the wave of violence. He added: “The majority of Palestinians who carried out attacks acted independently, without belonging to any group or organisation.”

By Sunday evening, the Palestinian Ministry of Health announced that 30 people had been killed and 1,500 injured by live and rubber bullets since the beginning of October.

Israeli media revealed that Israel sent a message to Abbas asking him to work on defusing the situation and not to make statements about Al-Aqsa Mosque that fans the flames of anger.

According to Israel Radio, Netanyahu’s special envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, and General Yoav Mordechai, coordinator of government operations in the Palestinian territories, met with Abbas in his Ramallah headquarters Friday to convey the message. The Palestinian presidency, however, denied the Israeli story saying it was fabricated.

A report published by the Atlas Israeli Studies Centre stated that Israeli security and media circles believe the “recent escalation will start to gradually decrease and the peak of tensions is now behind us.” They base their theory on a reported exchange of reassuring messages between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships.

The Gaza-based centre said this analysis is consistent with Israel’s description of events since the start: that the escalation was triggered by tension over Israeli holidays and influenced by Palestinian incitement and Abbas’s UN address, which created tensions that encouraged individual revenge attacks.

According to this reasoning, events will not snowball into open confrontations or a third intifada. Israelis are convinced the Palestinians will be easily dragged into serving Israel’s security policies.

The Atlas Israeli Studies Centre stated that Israel’s concerns are different from Palestinian concerns. Palestinians are worried about the future, losing control and the unknown, and are behaving like someone who does not have information and is always choosing to return to the status quo.

Meanwhile, according to the centre, the “Israeli concern is that of someone who does not like surprises. The concern of someone in charge and ready for worst-case scenario . . . It is the concern of someone who wants to convert threats to opportunities, to take the lead and control the situation, in order to benefit from every confrontation to serve their strategy to end the project of a Palestinian state and impose a fait accompli with settlements.”

Ron Ben-Yishai, a military analyst at Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, in an article titled “Israel’s perspective on recent riots”, wrote that the ongoing wave of stabbings will decline if there are no more provocations by settlers in the West Bank.

He said these events are nothing new but a repeat of similar incidents last year carried out by individuals spontaneously and who did not belong to any Palestinian faction or party.

Ben-Yishai added, “There are always several motives and incentives that create the required psychological frame of mind to overcome fear and the outcome is a stabbing or car accident or even shooting.”

Ben-Yishai explained the psychological reasons for the current wave. There are three motives, according to him, for recent attacks. The first is Israel’s attempts to change the status quo at Al-Aqsa Mosque through a precise religious plot that goes beyond the Palestinians to include all Muslims.

The second is the longstanding anger among Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Finally, the third is the success of attacks by Palestinian youth and the fact that Islam views “martyrdom” as desirable and admirable. Meanwhile, the Palestinian media — including Hamas and other Palestinian groups — further promotes these sentiments.

Ben-Yishai concluded by saying that settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem must be told “to exercise strict self-control because you are responsible for our security. Any provocation by you will cost us all a high price.”

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