Don’t discount a third intifada

Is a third Palestinian intifada coming in the foreseeable future? An Israeli Foreign Ministry intelligence report circulated in the government last week and leaked over the weekend to Ha’aretz suggests it could well be. The report is right, and its assessment should make sobering reading for Israeli officials and citizens alike.

The report holds that there is little appetite on behalf of the mainstream Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, or among the majority of Palestinians, for “a violent escalation with Israel.” All the evidence points in that direction. However, the report allegedly continues, “The continuing freeze of the diplomatic process, combined with any drastic Israeli moves in the military and/or economic realm and the continuing stormy situation in the Middle East, could bring about a change in this approach.”

What the report implicitly recognizes is that the situation on the ground is simply untenable. Despite the intentions of the Ramallah leadership or the Palestinian majority, the situation is building to such a state of tension that even a small spark could unleash waves of protest. Such protests could well begin nonviolently, but sooner rather than later would, as they always do, elicit a violent response from occupation forces.

The occupation, after all, is in essence a system of discipline and control over millions of subjugated noncitizens by a foreign army. Israeli forces ultimately have little recourse other than violence to suppress Palestinian protests—whether these are non-violent, symbolically violent (as in stone throwing against heavily armored troops) or genuinely resemble riots. The bottom line is that no people in the world will continue to sit idly by as their country is colonized before their very eyes and they continue to endure decades of foreign occupation with no end in sight.

Israel’s government has proven remarkably shortsighted in recent months, assuming it wants to avoid another escalation on the ground. Settlement activity has increased, including plans for building in sensitive areas, such as the E-1 corridor and other strategic locations that threaten the viability of any future Palestinian state. Leaving aside for a moment international law, under which all settlement activity is illegal, the Israeli government has proven incapable or unwilling to enforce its own laws about settlement-building and court orders to dismantle “unauthorized outposts.” It has even been retroactively recognizing hundreds of settlement housing units built without permission.

The latest illustration of the core of the problem is an Israeli plan to build a 475-kilometer rail system throughout the occupied territories. It even says it intends to demolish Palestinian solar energy installations because they were built “without the permission” of occupation authorities.

What this yet again demonstrates is that the Israeli government, for all intents and purposes and no matter what it says in public, continues to treat the occupied territories as Israeli property. Through its actions, it is sending a clear message that it has no interest in the eventual creation of a real Palestinian state. Its conduct makes it very difficult to argue that Israel does not eventually intend to either annex large chunks of the West Bank, making Palestinian statehood impossible, or to maintain the status quo that is radically separate and unequal in every respect along ethnic lines and which denies Palestinians their basic human and national rights.

A number of recent incidents have illustrated the kind of tension points that could provide the spark for another uprising, even if the Ramallah-based leadership and the Palestinian majority don’t want one. The hunger strike of Islamic Jihad activist Khader Adnan, whose death was averted by a last-minute deal with the Israeli authorities stipulating that he will be either released or charged by mid-April, conceivably had that potential. So have planned provocations by Jewish extremists at holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem and the killing of an unarmed Palestinian protester at an Israeli checkpoint.

The Palestinian leadership in Ramallah has three simultaneous initiatives at the moment: talks with Israel that no one believes will bear fruit in the foreseeable future, potential further action at the United Nations, and national reconciliation with Hamas. None of these seem to offer the prospect of much progress, and reconciliation with Hamas, so long as the organization does not change its policies, comes at a huge price internationally and diplomatically.

Israel, on the other hand, seems to have no initiative at all, and no realistic vision of the future except continuing to expand and entrench the occupation. But underlying the new intelligence report is the understanding that the status quo is simply untenable. If it continues, sooner or later something will trigger another confrontation on the ground that is almost certain to spiral quickly into violence.

If that happens, there will be plenty of blame to go around. But if the Israelis find themselves caught up in another spasm of bloodshed, they need only look in the mirror to discover who bears the greatest responsibility.