The spectre of a third intifada traps the PA in Israel's chains
The commotion over whether a third intifada has finally "arrived" in the West Bank peaked on Monday, two days after the death of Arafat Jaradat in one of Israel's jails. Israeli media outlets, from Haaretz to the Jerusalem Post, speculated as to whether Palestinian protests - against Jaradat's death, the detention of thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails and ultimately the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip - constituted an uprising.
The premise is that the West Bank has been relatively "quiet" in comparison to the days of the Second Intifada, which broke out in late 2000. This premise is false, not least because Israel's occupation policy has not let up for a day since the end of that uprising in 2005; deaths and mass detentions among Palestinians are still occurring, while closures and movement restrictions are being maintained. But for Israelis, the prospect of another wave of violence threatens the relative calm experienced on one side of the separation wall.
Of late, Palestinians have become an afterthought for the Israeli public. This was evident in the latest Israeli elections, where politicians quibbled over the economy more than they did about the inhabitants behind the wall. The spectre of an intifada has become a fear-mongering tool that ignores the reasons behind the seething anger of the Palestinian street. There is a too-little discussed acceptance in Israel that the denial of rights and the self-determination of millions of Palestinians is a normal status quo.
Further, Israel spins a narrative that the responsibility for the eruption of a third intifada, if it did happen, would fall entirely on the shoulders of the Palestinian Authority. On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that the PA quell what he described as riots flooding West Bank streets. According to the Jerusalem Post, Eitan Dangot, Israel's coordinator of government activities in the territories, also spoke several times by telephone with the PA's Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to urge him to put a lid on the demonstrations.
These public demands are a telling indication for Palestinians who perceive the PA as corroborating with Israel, but they also suggest that the PA is in charge - that somehow the Israelis do not control almost every facet of life in the occupied territories.
Previous protests in recent months occasionally have been met with Palestinian security forces' batons, as was the case last week in Hebron when demonstrations erupted over Israel's continued closure of Shuhada Street (once a vibrant road, now open only to Israeli settlers and tourists) and in commemoration of the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in 1994 committed by an Israeli settler.
Frustration with the status quo - the unprecedented pace of Israeli settlement building, withheld taxes that are contributing to the choking economic crisis and the political stalemate - has regularly been turning into protests throughout the West Bank. The talk of an imminent intifada ignores that these grievances and the disillusionment have persisted for a long time.
Israel's answer has been to provide quick fixes, which it believes can help to placate angry Palestinians. This week, Israeli authorities ordered a partial release of the tax that it has been withholding from the PA since Palestine was recognised as a non-member observer state at the United Nations in November.
"Israel … is likely to consider additional steps as well," wrote Amos Harel in Haaretz, "including a freeze on new administrative detentions, or the release of a handful of Fatah prisoners." This indicates that Israel is interested in maintaining the status quo without addressing the crux of the problem: the legitimate needs of Palestinians. The Israelis are also interested in establishing a calmer situation in preparation for next month's visit by US President Barack Obama, who they hope will focus on Iran, their crisis of choice.
The PA, meanwhile, is in a precarious position. It cannot afford to hit Palestinian protesters hard, nor can it afford to ignore Israel's fears. President Mahmoud Abbas told Al Arabiya TV at the weekend that he supports Palestinian resistance, but not violent resistance. In comments made separately, Mr Abbas said Palestinians would not be provoked into more unrest.
A senior Fatah official, Jibril Rajoub, went on Israel Radio to echo Mr Abbas's statement, declaring "on behalf of the entire Palestinian leadership that there is no plan to lead to bloodshed".
But Hamas has called for Israeli soldiers to be kidnapped in retaliation for Jaradat's death, making the PA - once more - look weak, perhaps even irrelevant in the political landscape. That may be why the Authority quickly called for an independent investigation and sent security forces to take part in Jaradat's funeral procession near Hebron. The PA attempted to burnish its image with Palestinians: Azzam Al Ahmad, a senior Fatah official, told Al Mayadeen satellite channel that the PA is helping organise "an escalation in popular resistance" because "resistance is a natural right".
Neither Israel nor the PA has an interest in another intifada and, as long as security cooperation between the two continues, Israel can rest easy. But the ongoing policies of Israel's occupation are unsustainable and it is clear that Palestinians will not tolerate them in perpetuity. As long as Israel continues to rely on carrots and sticks to temporarily quash popular outrage, the PA will be walking a fine line between an angry constituency and a demanding occupying force.
Dalia Hatuqa is a journalist and writer based in the West Bank
On Twitter: @DaliaHatuqa
Updated: February 27, 2013 04:00 AM