Is a Third Intifada in the offing?

A worsening Palestinian economy, peace process stalemate, and Israeli expansion could lead to new uprising.

'Prayer rights' at al-Aqsa Mosque is the latest bone of contention between Israel and the Palestinians [AFP]

Hebron, Occupied West Bank – The recent killing of two Israeli soldiers has broken a relative calm in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and some observers say the incidents could be a prelude to yet another Palestinian uprising.

One of the soldiers was killed September 21 near the northern West Bank town of Kalkilya, and the Israeli army arrested a Palestinian suspect shortly afterward. The perpetrator reportedly confessed to having killed the soldier with the intention of exchanging his body for his brother, who is serving a lengthy prison sentence in an Israeli jail.

According to Israeli sources, the other soldier – killed in the southern Palestinian town of Hebron the following day – was shot by a “professional Palestinian sniper“. Israeli troops launched a manhunt to apprehend the Palestinian suspect in the second killing, but so far no arrests have been made.

Palestinians clash with Israeli soldiers in Hebron [Reuters]

The two incidents have given rise to speculation that a Third Intifada may be in the offing, especially in light of mounting frustration among many ordinary Palestinians stemming from the peace process stalemate, and Israeli efforts to gain a foothold at the al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem.

Palestinian uprisings against Israel’s occupation were launched in 1987 and 2000 – known as the First Intifada and Second Intifada, respectively – leading to many deaths on both sides.

Economic pressures

The harsh economic situation is also putting enormous pressure on most Palestinians, contributing to collective frustration and rage. This may explain why most Palestinian factions, including Fatah, have blamed the Israeli occupation for the two incidents involving Israeli soldiers.

“Occupation begets violence,” said Abbas Zaki, a prominent aide to Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian pundits differ as to whether the recent events indicate a resumption of armed resistance against Israel on a significant scale is in the immediate future.

“We are already on the eve of a new intifada,” Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouk has been quoted as saying,

But Walid Suleiman, editor-in-chief of the Akbar al-Khalil newspaper, said while “an uprising of some sort” may be inevitable given the deadlock facing the “so-called peace process”, an imminent intifada is highly unlikely.

You surely don't expect me to tell you an uprising will take place on a given day and time. But I can tell you with a high degree of certitude that an intifada is coming, perhaps sooner than many of us think.

by -Abu Jihad, grass-roots Fatah leader

“Some Palestinians who are frustrated with the present situation are eager to see some sort of uprising take place, if only to stir stagnant waters. But an intifada is not a romantic affair which you can start and quit at will,” Suleiman said. 

“An intifada is mostly blood and fire, and if the Palestinian people and factions are not thoroughly prepared for it, it could have disastrous consequences.”

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Suleiman said there were “a thousand reasons” that would drive Palestinians to rise up and revolt against Israel.

“However, Palestinians must always look before they leap, especially in light of the bitter experience of the past two uprisings.”

Nayef Rajoub, a Hamas member and former religious affairs minister in the Palestinian Authority, concurred.

“I think the overall Palestinian reality is not ripe for the outbreak of a new uprising,” he said.

“Yes, factors conducive to the eruption of an intifada are plenty and ubiquitous, but conditions on the ground are far from ripe for starting an all-out uprising.”

Rajoub, an Islamist MP who has been repeatedly persecuted by both Israel and the PA for his political activism, said a successful intifada would require political concordance and consensus among Palestinians, which doesn’t exist now.

“The PA is strongly against the resumption of armed resistance against Israel and it would do everything possible to suppress any expression of violent, or even pro-active, resistance against Israel,” he said. “At the same time, the PA can’t provide satisfactory answers to people’s legitimate grievances, given the political deadlock and harsh economic crisis. Hence, the problem.”

‘Narrowing our horizons’

Jamil Muzher, a leading figure in the leftist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), said neither of the two previous uprisings was planned beforehand.

“You can’t plan an intifada. A planned intifada is doomed. The most important factor prompting the masses to revolt is Israeli repression, and Israel is narrowing our horizons as never before. Our people just cannot take anymore,” Muzher said.

Abu Jihad, a grass-roots Fatah leader in the southern West Bank, agreed. “You surely don’t expect me to tell you an uprising will take place on a given day and time, but I can tell you with a high degree of certitude that an intifada is coming, perhaps sooner than many of us think.”

Palestinians on both sides of the debate do agree that frustration has reached a breaking point, and whatever hopes existed for a dignified peace settlement with Israel have effectively evaporated.

Political science professor Abdul Satar Qassem launched a scathing attack on the Palestinian Authority, accusing it of “encouraging excessive consumerism at the expense of resistance, leading a police state [without a state], spreading moral decadence and fostering immoral lifestyles.

“We have had 25 intifadas since 1936, and all of them failed without any exception. In order to have success, the resistance must be secret and professional.”

Al-Aqsa game-changer?

Qassem, also an outspoken critic of the Oslo Accords, said the PA was hell-bent on “decapitating the culture of resistance” among the Palestinian people, and he accused it having spies watching people’s every move.

  The Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem [Getty Images]

“Look at what they have done. They hired informers to spy on every Palestinian, and at the same time they are encouraging people to hanker after their primitive desires and forget the occupation.”

Reacting to Qassem’s remarks, Ihab Bsiso, head of the government press office in Ramallah, said, “The PA is certainly not perfect. But we are working day and night to enhance the steadfastness of our people, and make them better prepared to withstand the horrors of a sinister foreign military occupation.

“Yes, there are mistakes, but I assure you we are making worthwhile achievements, despite the paucity of resources and the often crippling restrictions of the Israeli occupation.”  

The incendiary situation could blow up even though neither side, Israel or the PA, wish to see a bloody confrontation take place.

According to some Palestinian pundits, Israel’s moves into the al- Aqsa Mosque may prove to be the ultimate game-changer in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Last week, dozens of Israeli Knesset members urged their government to bar Muslims from accessing the Islamic sanctuary, the third holiest in Islam, until Jews were granted equal prayer rights there.

The following day, Israeli troops stormed the grounds of the mosque, beat Muslim worshipers, and banished a number of Muslim leaders from Jerusalem for “incitement and disturbing the peace”.

The Palestinian Authority, Jordan and others protested the Israeli provocation, however, the calls seem to have fallen on deaf ears in Israel.

Source: Al Jazeera