JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Peace talks with Israel are in deadlock and tear gas and rocks are flying at Jerusalem’s holy sites, but for all the mounting frustration in the West Bank talk of a Third Intifada seems premature to most Palestinians.
A week after Israeli forces clashed with hundreds of Arabs who believed expansionist Jewish settlers were trying to enter the al-Aqsa mosque compound, there were scuffles again yesterday and tension will remain high this week during holidays that draw Jewish worshippers to the Western Wall, close to the mosque.
After the violence the previous Sunday, Palestinian leaders accused Israel of trying to sink US President Barack Obama’s efforts to relaunch peace talks and compared it to a visit to the site in September 2000 by Israeli right-winger Ariel Sharon. That sparked what was dubbed the al-Aqsa Intifada, or uprising.
However, analysts and officials in the West Bank and East Jerusalem cited a number of factors likely to curb renewed violence in the near term, despite anger at new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sharon’s right-wing successor, and with the Jewish settlers whose expansion drive he has defended.
“There is a state of disengagement between the people and its political leadership so people are not ready to sacrifice as they did before,” said Zakaria al-Qaq of al-Quds University.
“At the same time there is a build-up of anger that is waiting for the spark. No one can predict when the spark will come. But it could take years yet.”
Factors mentioned include disillusion that 4,000 Palestinians deaths in the years of uprising since 2000 have brought few benefits, while Israel has walled off the West Bank and closed the Israeli job market to Palestinians.
The schism that has seen Islamist Hamas seize the Gaza Strip and being suppressed in the West Bank by new, Western-trained security forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas is also likely to limit organised violence from the West Bank against Israel.
While Abbas has limited options in pressing Netanyahu for a peace deal, few see him turning to the kind of suicide bombings and other attacks seen under his late predecessor Yasser Arafat.
Spontaneous unrest among angry crowds may be more likely.
Mohammad Dahlan, a senior figure in the “young guard” of Abbas’s Fatah party and a former security force commander, said he was wary that a new uprising would only harm Palestinians:
“If Netanyahu believes he wants to maintain the occupation as it is, to expand settlements and then expect peace from us, then this will not be acceptable,” Dahlan told Reuters.
“We may resort to popular action or civil action. We have an open mind on all legitimate methods permitted by international law. But we won’t push the Palestinian people into a disaster.”
Political analyst George Giacaman of Birzeit University in the West Bank said: “If there is no meaningful political track on a specific timeline, a political vacuum will be created.
“This will be filled by resistance of some kind.”
Israeli police hauled away youths, some only in their early teens, after stones and bottles flew in Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday. But the new generation, successors to the young men who spearheaded the rock-throwing of the First Intifada of the late 1980s and to the gunmen of nearly a decade ago, seems divided.
“Israel is fueling tensions that will explode later,” said Raed Abed, a 17-year-old student in the southern West Bank city of Hebron. “No one can predict what will happen.”
But his schoolmate Husam Sameh forecast no explosions for now: “Enough of fighting. We need to live in peace. We cannot fight Israel. We are so weak,” he said.
“Still, the question is whether Israel is ready for peace.”
Analyst Hani Masri said sporadic and largely spontaneous demonstrations that turn into clashes like those this past week in Jerusalem may become more common.
But he said: “The wariness among the people about popular resistance is greater than before, following the huge losses they suffered in the Second Intifada.
“Israel has used the Second Intifada as an excuse to build the wall and to avoid committing to signed agreements. Palestinians should not give them this excuse again.”
Samir Awad, a political science professor at Birzeit University, said: “It would be a mistake to expect a popular wave of protest. I cannot see it happening.
“But if Israeli provocations in Jerusalem continue, we may expect clashes arising from religious and patriotic emotion.”