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Daoud Kuttab Headshot

Dangerous Currents in Palestine

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The social and economic life in Jerusalem and the West Bank appears to be on a positive upwards trend. Salam Fayyad's government has been successful (with the help of donors) in providing economic growth; people are working, shops are stocked restaurants and cafes are full of paying customers.

An improved security situation has meant that towns like Nablus, Jenin, Bethlehem and Ramallah are enjoying busy days and, a rare occurrence, crowded nightlife. But underneath this pleasant surface, a nasty and dangerous current is building up, reflected in anger and frustration. It is not clear when this undercurrent will reach boiling point, but signs and evidence of an imminent eruption are increasing.

Politically, it is difficult not to see similarities in the situation now and that on the eve of both the first and second intifadas. Hardline right-wing Israeli politicians fill the airwaves with their extreme rhetoric and messianic ambitions, Jewish settlements expand and there are attempts to take over Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Externally, it is also hard to avoid comparisons. Dashed peace hopes and failed summits are on again this season. In the 1980s, Palestinians started a stone-throwing Intifada after the Egypt-Israel peace treaty failed to produce a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In 2000, the armed Al Aqsa Intifada occurred after the failed Camp David Summit in which Israel's prime minister Ehud Barak and the US president Bill Clinton tried to ram down their version of a permanent resolution down Yasser Arafat's throat.

While the fist Intifada began in Gaza, what ignited the West Bank was the brutal Israeli response to Palestinian demonstrators at Jerusalem's Aqsa Mosque. In 2000, when Israelis killed tens of Palestinian protesting then premier Ariel Sharon's visit to the mosque, a much more violent confrontation erupted. More than 4,000 Palestinians have been killed since, an eight-metre wall was erected deep in Palestinian territory, which includes East Jerusalem, and the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank continues to increase.

Politicians were able to buy time, especially after the election of Obama, whose actions and statements in his first days in office gave people reason to be optimistic. These high expectations, however, were shattered in New York when he falsely equated the Israeli lack of compliance with the roadmap (which was adopted by the Security Council) with the Palestinian's clearly proven record (including by Israeli military officials) of adhering to the security provisions in the agreement.

By shifting his demand that Israel freeze settlement activities to only "restricting" them, the American leader seems to give a green light to the right-wing Israeli government and its fanatic supporters. As a result, messianic zealots believing in the need to destroy the mosque and build a Jewish temple used the Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur and Sukkot to see how far they can push the isolated Palestinians of Jerusalem. The result has been daily clashes around Al Aqsa Mosque and a marked increase in tensions throughout Jerusalem and nearby locations.

Perhaps the best sign of this Palestinian anger came when, under intense US pressure, the Palestinian delegation at the UN Human Rights Commission agreed to a request to postpone discussion on the Goldstone report until next March. The anger at this second capitulation in less than a month to the US and Israel angered not only President Mahmoud Abbas' Hamas rivals in Gaza but also many of the newly elected Fateh leaders, his partners in the various PLO factions, as well as ordinary Palestinians.

The move, which apparently was due to direct pressure on the Palestinians by Hillary Clinton through the US consulate in Jerusalem, drew angry reactions in the media as well. Palestinian and Arab columnists attacked Abbas and his aides for ignoring the death of the 1,400 Gazans killed in the Israeli attack and quickly accepting the US dictates. After seeing the fiasco in New York, Palestinians have very little faith in the ability of the Obama administration, even after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, to move the Israelis to end the occupation when the White House was unable to stop illegal settlement building in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

While there are many signs of an imminent explosion, some believe otherwise. After all, the wall has in fact cut West Bank Palestinians from their brethren in Jerusalem. With the exception of some of the Islamists who are also citizens of Israel, it is hard to imagine that anything happening in Jerusalem will force the Israelis to make major changes.

The near total geographic split between Gaza and the West Bank, as well as the deep division between PLO nationalists and Hamas does not bode well for an effective and sustained resistance.

Palestinians are angry, frustrated and see little hope in the peace process. Forty-two years of foreign military occupation has exhausted the Palestinians. The lack of an effective international will has contributed to near total despair and lack of trust in the world community. It is hard to say whether these are the ingredients of another Palestinian Intifada, but if an explosion does take place, no one should be surprised.