When respected Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, incarcerated in an Israeli prison for a decade, recently called for a third Palestinian uprising or Intifada – and a cessation of all negotiations with the Jewish state – from his prison cell in Israel’s Haderim prison, Palestinians from across the political spectrum listened. And so did the Israelis. Barghouti was immediately placed in solitary confinement.
“It must be understood that there is no partner for peace in Israel when the settlements have doubled,” Barghouti said.”It is the Palestinian people’s right to oppose the occupation in all means, and the resistance must be focused on the 1967 Territories.”
“The launch of large-scale popular resistance at this stage serves the cause of our people,” he said in a letter smuggled out of his prison to mark the 10th anniversary of his imprisonment.
“Stop marketing the illusion that there’s a possibility of ending the occupation and achieving a state through negotiations after this vision has failed completely,” wrote Barghouti, who is also widely seen as a successor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
This was the first time that Barghouti had made such an announcement since he was jailed by the Israelis in 2002 for allegedly helping to mastermind the second Palestinian Intifada which broke out in October 2000. Barghouti as the leader of the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades – a militant faction affiliated with the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) Fatah movement – was also suspected of being one of the organisers of a wave of suicide bombings carried out against Israeli targets both within the Occupied Palestinian territories and within the Green Line or Israel proper.
The second, or Al Aqsa Intifada as it was known, broke out after former Israeli premier Ariel Sharon – ignoring the advice of Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, and warnings from Jerusalem police – carried out a provocative visit to Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest place.
Israel takes Barghouti very seriously and with good cause. Not only has he been a proponent of peace talks with the Israelis, and a supporter of the two-state solution, but he commands respect from a large proportion of Palestinians from across the political spectrum which divides Hamas supporters in Gaza and Palestinian Authority (PA) supporters in the West Bank.
Barghouti’s credibility is unsurpassed, he has also remained untainted by the corruption which has besmirched the PA leadership in the West Bank, while proving himself to be a warrior for peace as much as he was a warrior against Israeli occupation.
Despite Israel’s accelerated settlement building, land expropriation and its increasingly brutal treatment of Palestinians over the last few years, Barghouti called on Palestinians to remain steadfast and continue to give peace with Israel a chance.
Barghouti’s credibility is one of the major reasons Israel has refused to release him from prison in one of the numerous prisoner exchange deals that have taken place over the years between Tel Aviv and Hamas, Hizbullah and the PA, while far more dangerous and uncompromising prisoners were released by Israel.
When he concluded the inevitable, his jail-cell exhortation to sever economic and security coordination with Israel and launch an economic boycott resonated far and wide.
Fears of a new Intifada, or uprising, have been growing for some time amid increased Palestinian frustration at what they term as Israel’s sabotage of a moribund peace process.
It has become clear to even Israel’s most ardent supporters in the West that the country’s most right-wing goverment since the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, under the leadership of Binyamin Netanyahu, has no intention of allowing the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state despite his verbal assurances of such.
Furthermore, Netanyahu has no intention of relinquishing Palestinian water and land resources in the West Bank; neither has he any intention of removing roughly 500,000 Israeli settlers who illegally reside there and in East Jerusalem.
Even under the so-called settlement freeze period some building continued. Now Israel’s civil administration, which governs the Palestinian Territories, has legitimised a number of West Bank outposts. These were ruled illegal by the Israeli government as opposed to the settlements which, although illegal under international law, were supported politically and economically by successive Israeli governments.
The failure of successive US administrations to convince the Israelis into even token withdrawals from the West Bank has incensed the Palestinians. Furthermore, the increasingly provocative behaviour of the settlers, including regular arson attacks on mosques and the destruction of Palestinian property against the background of a freeze in progress on the diplomatic front, has exacerbated tensions.
Aggravating the situation further is the precarious financial situation of the PA which relies heavily on decreasing international donations, and taxes reguarly withheld by the Israelis, to maintain its position as the largest employer of West Bank Palestinians. The PA has largely lost political legitimacy in the eyes of Palestinians, including many of its Fatah supporters, as can be witnessed by the increasingly draconian censorship of Palestinian websites critical of Abbas and his cronies.
Should the PA be unable to provide the approximately 180,000 Palestinians (excluding their dependents) with a livelihood it would be even less able to halt the outbreak of a third Intifada when Palestinians are pushed into a corner with even their precarious financial existence under threat.
The regular flare-ups of cross-border violence between Gaza and Israel, often intiated by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), and the high proportion of Palestinian civilian casualties is another factor that has added to simmering Palestinian anger even if this anger is currently latent. The Arab Spring erupted without warning as did the first Palestinian Intifada when on the surface events might have appeared “normal”.
Israel’s intelligence agencies are aware of the possibilities of another major uprising being triggered by an emotive incident such as one of the hundreds of Palestinian prisoners currently on hunger strike in Israeli prisons dying while in administrative detention.