Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1277, (7 - 13 January 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1277, (7 - 13 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Will it get out of hand?

With violence escalating in Jerusalem and other parts of the occupied Palestinian territories, Ahmed Al-Sayed, reporting from Gaza, considers the consequences

Al-Ahram Weekly

For four months now, Palestinians in Jerusalem have taken the lead in what has been called the “silent intifada”, or even the “stabbing intifada.” So far, there have been hit-and-run car attacks and stabbings by individuals acting on their own initiative.

But with Israel continuing to display its typical heavy-handed tactics, with settlers reacting with their own set of atrocities and the peace process all but dead, anything can happen.

Analysts on opposite sides have offered contrasting views of the current uprising. Some expected it to fizzle out, others for it to escalate, and others say it may be the beginning of a period of on-again, off-again violence that could last indefinitely.

The lack of leadership is particularly interesting. Some say that Palestinians are bypassing their inept leaders and taking matters into their own hands. Theirs is a message to the occupation authorities, one that says that Al-Aqsa Mosque is a red line.

Mohamed Ashtiya, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, said that the popular uprising is a natural result of the “intransigence of the occupation authorities and their lack of desire for a solution.”

The death toll is one indication of how serious matters have become. Since the uprising began in early October, 145 Palestinians have died and nearly 16,000 were injured in Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank and Gaza, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. During the same period, 26 Israelis died and 400 others were injured, according to official reports.

Ashtiya believes that Binyamin Netanyahu’s dead-end policies are the main motivation for the violence. “Netanyahu is for a no-solution policy [that] is going to lead to further escalation,” Ashtiya said.

The current situation may lead to one of three outcomes, according to Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations. One is that the uprising will run out of steam, fading out before long. Another is that it will fluctuate between high- and low-intensity violence. And the last is that it will evolve into a full-fledged intifada.

Israelis are divided about the uprising. Some are afraid it will get out of hand, but others believe that it can be kept under control.

The newspaper Haaretz has warned that Palestinians may be forming armed cells in parts of the West Bank.

Amos Harel, Haaretz’s military analyst, believes that the formation of armed cells would turn the current violence into a new intifada. So far, all operations appear to have been carried out by individuals who have no organisational connections.

Writing on 4 January, Harel drew parallels with the 1987 and 2000 intifadas. “For those with good memories, senior army officials this week sounded like their predecessors in October 2000, the first month of the second intifada. Real old-timers may even have heard echoes of December 1987, when we didn’t even know what an intifada was,” he said.

The main difference between the current situation and previous intifadas is that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is not propagating violence, Harel wrote.

“While no two intifadas are alike, we no doubt face a significant terror wave that will take time to extinguish. Officials in the army and Shin Bet security service stress the positive side — that the Palestinian Authority, unlike in 2000, isn’t encouraging terror, and its instructions to its security forces to restrain violence are unambiguous,” he said.

“But the behaviour of President Mahmoud Abbas and his forces can’t blur the fact that they’re living on borrowed time.”

The newspaper Maariv warned that the heavy-handed actions of Israeli security may further fuel the violence. Killing suspects and demolishing houses are likely to lead to acts of revenge by the Palestinian side, the paper noted.

A public opinion poll by the Israeli online site Walla! found that 61 per cent of Israelis feel that their security has been greatly damaged since the beginning of the uprising. Some 29 per cent said that their security was moderately affected, while nine per cent said there had been no change.

According to the same opinion poll, 71 per cent of the respondents said that the Israeli government is mishandling the situation, while 19 per cent said that its actions are justified.

Writing in Israel Hayom on 4 January, Eyal Zisser, dean of the Faculty of Humanities at Tel Aviv University, applauded the Israeli security services for their handling of the crisis.

“The lone attackers who try harming Israeli soldiers and civilians may have a tailwind of support from the Palestinian street, which is always quick to empathise with their actions, but the fact is that only a small number of Palestinians are ready to join this terror wave. There is a discernible desire among Palestinians to avoid escalating the current violence, which is in fact most harmful to the Palestinians themselves,” Zisser said.

“That we are seeing lone-wolf attacks and not a large-scale, organised mobilisation is mostly due to the effectiveness of Israel’s security forces, which are on the ground and able to recognise any significant attempt by Hamas or other terrorist groups to establish a foothold,” he added.

According to Zisser, the Palestinians have no desire to escalate matters further because their situation is preferable to that in most Arab states.

“The Palestinians in the territories have not suddenly fallen in love with Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria, but as they look around them at what is happening in the Arab world they realise that they want the calm offered by the Israeli presence, loathsome as they may find it.

“After all, despite the wave of stabbings, Palestinian day-to-day life in the West Bank is continuing as normal. Their current status is excellent in comparison to most other Arab societies in the region,” he claimed.

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