IS THERE A THIRD INTIFADA IN THE WINGS?

Palestinians are growing increasingly frustrated by the Israeli government’s illegal land grabs, withholding of monies owed and widespread, ritual human rights abuses. The idea of a two state solution is dead in the water. With hope for any sort of justice fast diminishing, the situation is becoming more volatile by the hour.

Mel Frykberg reports from Israel.

Israeli security agencies are warning of a third Palestinian Intifada, saying that conditions in the occupied Palestinian Territories are ripe for another uprising. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is developing strategies to isolate Israel while Hamas, which has now sworn never to recognise Israel is growing in strength in the West Bank while consolidating its unification with its political rival Fatah.

Simultaneously, Israel is continuing to expropriate Palestinian land, expanding illegal settlements in strategically sensitive areas in an attempt to create facts on the ground thereby making a two-state solution to the prolonged Israeli-Palestinian conflict nigh impossible. Further fuelling this volatile cocktail are the continued price tag attacks on Palestinians by rabid Israeli settlers in the Palestinian West Bank.

A new Palestinian group called the National Union Battalions (NUB), comprising Palestinians from across the political spectrum, has called for a third Palestinian uprising or Intifada. The warnings of a third uprising come as increasingly violent protests and clashes, between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian youths, continue to break out across cities and towns in the West Bank.

One of the larger and more violent protests took place in Hebron, in the southern West Bank in early December, sparked by an Israeli border guard’s killing of Muhammad Salayma, aged 17, under questionable circumstances. A video distributed shortly afterward by NUB members from Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) announced the establishment of their organisation as a means of consolidating the struggle against Israel.

While the group stressed its support for the UN’s recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state, it said it would fight to recover “all of Palestine – from the sea to the river.”

“This is the beginning of a third Palestinian Intifada, which is erupting from the heart of Hebron and will spread to all of Palestine,” said a spokesman in a video released to the media.

The members further threatened to kidnap Israeli soldiers if the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) didn’t stop arresting Palestinians, adding that if Israel continued to kill Palestinians with impunity, the group would retaliate in kind.

The demands of the Battalions include removing all IDF checkpoints in the West Bank, the release of all Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, an Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Palestinian land, and the transfer of all tax revenues Israel has been withholding from the PA since the UN voted on upgrading the Palestinians’ status. They also demand the opening of all border crossings, and the besieged Gaza Strip to be supplied with water and electricity.

The group released their statement the day following the fatal shooting of Salayma after Israeli soldiers claimed he had threatened them with a plastic gun. However, when The Middle East magazine (TME) spoke to members of the Salayma family a very different picture emerged.

“I doubt Muhammad had any plastic gun. I believe the Israelis planted that gun near him in the aftermath of the shooting. Hebron’s Old City, where the shooting took place, has close-circuit cameras all over. The Israelis released a doctored video with pieces cut out showing Muhammad allegedly threatening the soldier but there was no gun,” said the dead youth’s uncle Muhammad Salayma Sr, a policeman with the PA.

“It was his birthday and he had gone out to buy a celebratory birthday cake. To get to the shop he had to pass through an Israeli military checkpoint and then pass through it again when returning home. If he had a replica gun on him the x-ray machine would have detected this,” Salayma Sr told TME.

“He was a happy and intelligent student, and represented Palestine’s wrestling team in France. He was returning home with his birthday cake and we are meant to believe that he suddenly tried to overpower heavily- armed and well trained Israeli soldiers with a plastic gun? He wouldn’t have been that stupid,” cousin Nasim Salayma, 22, told TME.

Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights organisations have documented numerous cases over the years where Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli soldiers under highly disputed circumstances.

What is undisputed, however, is the mass anger the killing sparked as hundreds of Palestinian youths took to the streets in Hebron to vent their anger against Israeli troops, throwing stones and burning tyres. In the subsequent clashes dozens were injured, some seriously by live ammunition, rubber bullets and teargas. The protests then spread to other West Bank towns and cities.

TME witnessed further clashes in Hebron the following day as a large rally of Hamas supporters marked the 25th anniversary of the organisation’s establishment.

This was the first time in years that the PA has allowed Hamas rallies to take place as a consequence of recent steps towards rapprochement between former enemies Hamas and the PA-affiliated Fatah, Palestine’s two main political factions.

The baby steps towards unity follow Hamas’ growing political strength in the wake of the Gaza war which united Palestinians from all factions. During Israel’s recent war on Gaza, TME witnessed thousands of Palestinians from across the political divide waving flags in support of Fatah, Hamas and the smaller political parties as they marched through the streets of Gaza celebrating what they saw as a political victory over Israel.

Cars with posters of Fatah’s Yasser Arafat passed Hamas police who were out in force in the streets, something that would have been impossible just weeks before following 2007’s civil war between Fatah and Hamas. The Israeli attacks had succeeded in fortifying Palestinian anger and unifying the divided factions, even if temporarily, against a common enemy.

Shortly after the war Fatah delegations came to Gaza to meet with the Hamas government while spokesmen from both parties addressed hundreds of thousands of celebrating Palestinians. Nearly a million Fatah supporters packed central Gaza on 4 January to celebrate the organisation’s 48th anniversary.

Following the tentative steps towards unity, the security forces from both sides have sharply reduced the arrest of opposition activists in their respective Territories. This move has worried the Israelis who hitherto have relied on excellent security coordination between PA security forces and the IDF to cripple the activities of resistance groups. As a result the Israelis are now strengthening intelligence monitoring and increasing arrests of those they suspect of carrying out resistance activities. Nevertheless Hamas’ strength in the West Bank is growing. This and Israel’s coming transfer of a number of Hamas prisoners to the Territory from Gaza as part of a previous prisoner swap deal will further consolidate the Islamist organisation’s presence there.

Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ politburo chief-in-exile, recently called for Hamas sleeper cells in the West Bank to prepare themselves for armed struggle to take control of the Palestinian Territory, according to media reports.

The reports citing the Shin Bet (Israel’s domestic intelligence agency) and the Aman military intelligence service, claimed that the Islamist group, at the behest of Iran, was preparing to seize power in the West Bank as it did in Gaza in the 2007 civil war.

Political analysts believe relations between Hamas and Iran have improved following a fall-out over Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s bloody crackdown on Syrian dissidents and rebels. They believe Iran is trying to create a third proxy force in the West Bank to further its geopolitical ambitions in the region in the event of an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been warned by Israeli intelligence of Hamas’s possible usurpation of power. However, under no circumstances will Netanyahu give up an inch of the West Bank as he is convinced that the intelligence assessment about a Muslim Brotherhood [Hamas] takeover is solid.

Former head of Palestinian general intelligence General Tawfik Tirawi concurs with these assertions arguing that Hamas wants another Intifada and will take over the West Bank. Israel for its part is doing all it can to add fuel to the low-grade fire currently burning.

Israel continues to hold over $100bn in PA tax money in retaliation for the PA successfully upgrading its UN status to that of non-member state at the UN General Assembly recently. The possible collapse or dissolution of the cash-strapped PA cannot be ruled out. The PA is a source of livelihood for several hundred thousand Palestinians and their dependents and mass unemployment would make Palestinians more desperate.

Israel-Palestinian peace talks are frozen. Palestinian outrage has been aggravated by the increase in Israeli settler attacks on Palestinians and Israel’s continued expropriation of Palestinian land.

Despite international outrage Israel continues to expropriate Palestinian land, enlarging current and building new settlements. Of particular concern to the international community are Netanyahu’s plans to build new settlements in the sensitive area of E1 near Jerusalem.

These settlements would effectively cut the West Bank into two pieces, making a contiguous Palestinian state impossible. The West Bank already resembles a Bantustan with three parcels of Territory surrounded and eaten away by illegal Israeli settlements.

However, following growing international recognition Palestinian dreams of statehood have been emboldened. In tandem the PA is working on a strategy of the international isolation of Israel through the campaign of Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) which is growing on the world stage, along the lines of sanctions against apartheid South Africa.

Emboldened by their newly upgraded status at the UN, the Palestinians are talking of filing war crimes charges against Israel, staging mass demonstrations in the West Bank, encouraging the international community to impose sanctions, and ending the security cooperation that has helped preserve quiet in recent years.

Palestinian officials all voice a similar theme: Following the UN General Assembly’s recognition of “Palestine” as a non-member observer state in November, the status quo cannot continue.

“2013 will see a new Palestinian political track. There will be new rules in our relationship with Israel and the world,” said Hussam Zumlot, an aide to President Mahmoud Abbas.

Although the UN vote did not change facts on the ground, it is significant in that it is further international recognition of Palestinian rights and their bid for statehood. It also represents clear endorsement of future borders and paves a way for Palestinians to join international agencies to press their grievances against Israel. Palestinian activists have long argued that the support of grassroots movements abroad would help them in their fight for liberation. Against the background of the UN upgrade, grassroots support for the BDS movement is likely to snowball.

Israel’s international reputation, meanwhile, is increasingly beginning to resemble that of a polecat, and the recent election of an even more right-wing government, which continues to ignore international opinion is not going to help the Jewish state’s cause.

The conditions for another uprising are indeed building up as the Shin Bet continues to apprehend a number of resistance cells planning attacks.

“Even the most optimistic Palestinians now realise they have been led up the garden path in regard to peace talks with Israel,” Professor Samir Awad from Birzeit University near Ramallah told TME.

“I don’t know why the PA continues to try and negotiate with Israel. It is abundantly obvious that Israel is a colonial-settler state that won’t leave Palestinian Territory voluntarily. They need to be driven out and this is now dawning on Palestinians.

“It is a matter of time before another uprising and if the economic pressure becomes too unbearable with the collapse of the PA this will happen sooner than later,” added Awad.

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