March 05, 2012 Edition 8 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
Another round of violence?
Growing signs of frustration  - Yossi Alpher
The most serious frustration is the total stalemate in the peace process.

Volatile, but unpredictable  - Ghassan Khatib
The collapse of the status quo does not necessarily mean a resumption of violence.

No calculated leadership decision  - Barry Rubin
Those who came of political age in the first intifada might view a war as the best way to fuse Fateh-Hamas cooperation.

Time for uprising number three?  - Saleh Abdel Jawad
The standstill in the political process and negotiations with Israel are obvious.

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Growing signs of frustration
 Yossi Alpher
In recent weeks and months, we have confronted a growing number of worrisome possible precursors of a new intifada or some similar round of violence on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. While the previous two intifadas were seemingly triggered by unintended actions or events (a traffic accident in 1987, a Temple Mount visit in 2000), in retrospect it is clear that they erupted due to the accumulation of frustrations on the Palestinian side, at least some of which could have been prevented by Israel.

What are the relevant frustrations today?

The most serious is the total stalemate in the peace process: the recent Amman talks failed, the United Nations track has proven less than fruitful for the Palestinians, and the Obama administration in Washington is so deeply entrenched in an election year that it is taking no risks regarding Middle East peace. When the world looks at the Middle East, it sees chaos and revolution in places like Syria--not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The reconciliation process between Hamas and Fateh, after moving forward in fits and starts, is seemingly stalemated. Were it to succeed, the resultant merger activities and elections would keep the Palestinian public busy for the better part of a year. Not only is that not currently the case, but the boost Hamas has received from the Arab revolutionary wave, with its across-the-board enfranchisement of political Islam, enhances its policy of rejecting peace in the public's eye. Were a new round of violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip-based Hamas to break out now, it too could catalyze West Bank violence. Moreover, Egypt's switch from supporting the Palestine Liberation Organization in its peace negotiation efforts to dialoguing with Hamas seemingly confronts PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas with the need to contemplate more radical options.

Apropos the role played by the Temple Mount/Harem al-Sharif in the September 2000 outbreak of the second intifada, we almost witnessed a replay two weeks ago, when internet incitement by right-wing Israeli extremists sparked violent demonstrations on the Mount. But even without the most extreme right, the settler mainstream continues to throw lighted matches on a tinderbox as the Netanyahu government takes full advantage of the seeming absence of acute international concern to expand settlements at an alarming rate--yet another traditional precursor and catalyst of Palestinian violence.

Another potential context for renewed violence is prisoners. The Shalit prisoner release deal between Israel and Hamas has apparently triggered a pattern of events familiar from previous instances, whereby the large-scale release of Palestinian prisoners by Israel, under duress, contributed to renewed Palestinian violence. Inevitably, some former prisoners are now perceived by Israel as again planning violence: five Islamic Jihad activists who were released in the Shalit exchange were recently re-arrested by the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank.

Moreover, a few administrative detainees have initiated hunger strikes to protest the lack of due process in their incarceration. Why now, when Israel has been holding a small number of prisoners without trial for decades? Once again, the overall atmosphere and accumulation of contributing factors provide the explanation. Were a hunger striker to die, this could readily trigger a chain of mass protest and violence.

Those IDF incursions into the cities of the West Bank, usually to make arrests, constitute yet another certain cause of acute Palestinian frustration with the status quo. A recent invasion of the al-Quds University campus to confiscate broadcasting equipment due to a squabble over frequencies is the most recent such flashpoint. Eventually, if and when Palestinian Authority security forces are sufficiently embarrassed and compromised by this behavior--at a time when no one can point to compensatory progress toward a two-state solution and the settlements are spreading--then the one element on the Palestinian side that is capable of preventing a new outbreak of popular violence will simply step aside.

That could happen this week, this year or not at all. Experience teaches us that the outbreak of an intifada cannot be accurately predicted. But we also know that a lot could still be done to prevent it. As to the question whether violence benefits or hurts the Palestinian cause--that is the topic of a separate inquiry.-Published 5/3/2012 ©

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Volatile, but unpredictable
 Ghassan Khatib
The combination of a complete absence of political prospects for solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and ending the Israeli occupation, as well as the growing daily difficulties experienced by Palestinians in the occupied territories, has been encouraging many analysts and politicians to warn of a possible resumption of violence or another intifada of some kind. This reflects a consensus view that the current situation is not sustainable.

These publicly-expressed worries over a possible collapse of the status quo arose in part after Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad made two statements, one after the killing of a 25-year-old Palestinian man in a peaceful protest near Qalandia and the other after an Israeli raid on two local television stations in Ramallah.

In these statements, the prime minister accused the international community, particularly the Quartet, of not doing enough to stop Israeli violations of Palestinian rights. He said that the continuation of such indifference might have negative consequences. In the second statement, he said that Israel carries out these provocative activities, such as raiding media headquarters in Palestinian cities, in a manner that seems to indicate it wants to drag Palestinians into another cycle of violence.

From the other perspective, there is reason to believe that Palestinians have learned lessons from their past and now believe that a turn to armed conflict and violent confrontation is not in their favor, but rather in Israel's interest. There are two indicators of this. First, recent years have witnessed the lowest rates ever of violent incidents against Israelis. This is likely due in part to the effectiveness of Palestinian security forces. But that factor alone would not be enough to prevent violence. The other and most important factor is that the Palestinian public is increasingly less committed to violent means of resisting the occupation and seems to be leaning towards non-violent struggle. A report released last week by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre shows a clear trend of decline in public support for armed struggle over the last 14 years, with late 2011 marking the period of lowest support in this time period overall.

Experience tells us that if the peace process continues to be unable to bring Palestinians closer to achieving their legitimate objectives of ending the occupation and if Israel continues its oppressive measures and violations of Palestinian rights (including violent treatment of non-violent protests, the confiscation of land, expansion of settlements and the demolition of houses, etc.), the status quo may indeed collapse. This is especially true if the international community, and particularly the Quartet, continue to fail at ensuring that Palestinians and Israelis are fulfilling the obligations that they are committed to, especially the roadmap.

The collapse of the status quo does not necessarily mean a resumption of violence, however. It might mean something else. The history of the Palestinian people under occupation has shown that dramatic changes were not foreseen. Politicians and analysts have had trouble predicting the outcome of major shifts in our cause. We are at such a crossroads now, but it is only safe to say that there is an urgency in the air that requires serious attention by the international community. It is not easy for anyone to know or predict, however, what exactly will happen and when.-Published 5/3/2012 ©

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

No calculated leadership decision
 Barry Rubin
Is there going to be a "third intifada"? I have no idea. That is a question most likely to be determined by those who set Palestinian strategy and they will surely differ among themselves. What interests me is the basis upon which such a choice would be made.

When this issue is discussed publicly, it is attributed almost entirely to the idea that frustration will motivate revolt. This is certainly the point made by Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization leaders. The argument is that unless they get their way diplomatically, violence will be the logical outcome.

But that's just a tactic to use violence as leverage, scaring western countries--because such threats won't scare Israel--into concessions. Moreover, since western countries will not hand the PLO unilateral independence on its own terms, without any deal with Israel or concessions, violence would ultimately either be useless or talk of violence would turn out to be a bluff.

There are other considerations that will determine Palestinian policy.

Would a third intifada actually bring Palestinian gains? I would argue that neither of the first two did, though of course that didn't stop them from happening. Political profitability is not the only factor involved and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had his own way of assessing the balance of forces. But whether violence would bring any benefit is going to be an important issue for the Palestinian leadership.

Why would the leadership launch a new war if it didn't expect rationally to gain from it? Ideological enthusiasm and irrational wishful thinking do play some part here. Yet the current leadership has had some lessons in the cost of wrecking its own infrastructure. That kind of thinking in itself is insufficient.

There's another point that must be raised. Would a third intifada and the wrecking of Palestinian infrastructure once again enhance or destroy the PA and Fateh dominance on the West Bank? Demagoguery about heroic fighters, martyrdom, and liberating Palestine by fire and sword has proven to be useful for building mass support.

Yet that has usually been true when Fateh, through the PLO, had a monopoly on violence or when Hamas was content to play second fiddle to Arafat. Those conditions no longer apply.

On the other hand, however, wouldn't Hamas, with its greater degree of specialization in terror and triumphalism be in a better position to benefit? After all, Fateh does rule the West Bank and provoking anarchy and chaos could destroy its standing. By having to cooperate with Hamas, Fateh would legalize Hamas' institutions and actions, allowing it to heap new glory on itself by murdering Israeli civilians. That is very risky.

In contrast, Fateh would gain nothing in the Gaza Strip, which would stay firmly under Hamas control. Small Fateh groups might be able to operate there, but so what? They would have no political influence and be under the thumb of Hamas. A third intifada is politically beneficial to Hamas and that is a point that no Fateh or PA leader can easily ignore.

More likely, then, is a situation in which either Hamas forces the outbreak of an uprising or some leaders in Fateh do so. The latter's motivations would include a genuine belief in revolutionary methods, which a significant sector of the Fateh leadership does accept, or the use of an intifada as part of a leadership struggle.

The fact is that Fateh and PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas is in the closing phase of his leadership and there is no clear successor. Complicating the situation is the spectre of a generational transition. People can put forward in conversation their preferred person to lead the PA, PLO, and Fateh or speculate as to who it might be. But the truth is that nobody has the least idea, even regarding the identity of the most likely candidates.

A leader or faction or elements of the "young guard" might well decide that an intifada would suit their purposes. It would distance them from the "failed" policies of Abbas and the current establishment. By focusing on youth, violence, and the security forces, such a strategy could benefit a takeover bid by "military" officials or by young anti-establishment forces.

There is a difference between those two sectors. The PA "military" tends to dislike Hamas, but those who came of political age in the first intifada see things differently. They might view a war as the best way to fuse Fateh-Hamas cooperation with themselves taking a leading role.

Of course, an uprising could take place due to some major or symbolic incident, forcing the leaders to rush to the front of the army. That is also possible. But least likely of all would be Abbas and the current leadership making a calculated decision to launch a war that they expect to gain from.-Published 5/3/2012 ©

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, "Israel: An Introduction" has just been published by Yale University Press.

Time for uprising number three?
 Saleh Abdel Jawad
The question of whether we are on the verge of another uprising is a difficult one that nobody can really answer--not political analysts, not Israel's security services nor the decision makers of the Palestinian factions Fateh and Hamas that appear to have the button at their fingertips. The query raises more questions than answers, in fact.

First, the subsequent Palestinian uprisings have not come about (as some people seem to think) with the push of a button. Rather, they have been the product of accumulated reactions and the experiences of the people, which lead to the psychological boiling point of intifada.

Second, the answer to the question, "Is another uprising on the way?" leads to other less controversial questions such as, "Are there things pushing the Palestinian people towards a third intifada?" Indeed, what is the definition of intifada and can one even talk about a third intifada without evaluating the first and the second? Lastly, will the nature of the next intifada be broad and popular and adopt a generally non-violent approach, or will it be solely violent?

There are more difficult and perplexing questions such as, "What is the impact of the sharp division between Fateh and Hamas and the absence of the Palestinian left? Will the uprising be directed solely at Israel and its occupation? What will be the impact of the so-called 'Arab spring' on any substantial Palestinian movement? How will the regional and international map--and we are on the threshold of a new phase with the possibility of a strike on Iran, a more effective role for Russia and the repercussions of the global financial crisis--affect Palestinians and their cause?"

There really is no need to look deeply into the reasons that might push the Palestinian people to a step of this kind. The standstill in the political process and negotiations with Israel are obvious. The Oslo agreement was supposed to end its transitional period in 1999 (in other words, Palestinians were to establish their own state that year). Not only did the process not work, but it made the situation much worse. Since 1993, Israel has used the "peace process" to create irreversible new facts on the ground, facts that have affected tremendously the possibility of establishing even a vulnerable and weak Palestinian state. Among these are the Judaization of Jerusalem and the West Bank, the doubling of the number of settlers there, the establishment of the separation wall, the internal transfer of the population and so on. Today we are witnessing a settler orgy, with the Israeli government being complicit or--at best--turning a turned blind eye. Thus, we have come to the conclusion that the goal of the state is no longer attainable. The foundations of the state are not even on the list of demands. We have arrived at the end. We have reached an impasse and there is no way out except through an explosion.

Since 1920, Palestinians have resisted the Judaization of their country. Sometimes this has taken the form of waves of anger and public protest. Many of these waves have been called "uprisings" ("habat") or "intifadas", but the first intifada of 1987 alone is worthy of that name. This is not only because it included the full spectrum of people--the rich and poor, children and the elderly, women and men, city residents and villagers and camp refugees--but also because it took the lead in emanating new forms of struggle characterized by broad social interaction, decentralized decision-making and the power of the civilian over that of the armed fighter.

Previous descriptions of the first intifada--those that are comprehensive and objective--lead me to say here that the essence of this uprising lasted only for the first six months or at most a year. After that, it was hijacked by opportunists and Israeli repression and even used to further the destruction of Palestinian society.

A fundamental difference exists between the first intifada of the Palestinian people and the so-called "second intifada". This difference was reflected in forms of participation, events, geography, and outcomes, which need not be explored here. What are controversial are the reasons for the difference. There is one main component (among others, of course) that was not present in the first intifada but was there in the second uprising and persists today: the Palestinian Authority. Palestinians see the Palestinian Authority as the first phase in their transitional state-building period. The Palestinian Authority was never a Palestinian goal in itself; the state was the ultimate goal. The Israelis, however, have succeeded in creating a sense within the Palestinian Authority that its survival is linked to its security role. This certainly was not what the late Yasser Arafat wanted when he signed the Oslo agreement. Added to this today is a factor that was not present at the outbreak of the second intifada, which is the division between Fateh and Hamas and the existence of two separate Palestinian entities, one in the West Bank and the other in the Gaza Strip.

The outcome is that the Palestinian national and Islamist movements are caught in the trap of an authority that does not carry in its womb the new life of a state, as sought after by Fateh and the Palestine Liberation Organization, and is unable to accomplish freedom through resistance, as demanded by Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Thus, this authority has become an obstacle to statehood and resistance alike--and is also an obstacle to any new uprising. Moreover, the new political economy of Palestinian society is not able to bear a fresh intifada, as tens of thousands of individuals are now bound and enslaved by policies of credit that keep them busy trying to repay their loans every month.

In closing, one observes that many of the current forms of resistance against Israel's occupation reflect the features of the condition of the Palestinian public. Grassroots and popular activity comes at the initiative of individuals and groups distant from any central leadership organization. This activity could mean that a new "people power" will eventually figure prominently in the conflict's equation. But until this third way is actualized and as long as the Arabs remain powerless despite the Arab spring, Israel can rest easy.-published 5/3/2012

Saleh Abdel Jawad is a political scientist and dean of the Faculty of Law and Public Administration at Birzeit University.