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New intifada unlikely despite soaring Jerusalem tensions

March 20th, 2010

   by Hossam Ezzedine

   RAMALLAH, West Bank, March 17, 2010 (AFP) – Tensions over Jerusalem sparked the worst riots in years but are unlikely to ignite a new intifada, or uprising, as the Palestinian Authority appears determined to preserve calm.
   The Islamist Hamas movement has repeatedly declared a new intifada from its Gaza enclave and its base in exile in Damascus, but analysts and Palestinian officials in the West Bank expect their calls to go unheeded.
   “An intifada is not going to happen just because some leaders called for it from (hundreds of) kilometres (miles) away,” a senior Palestinian official in the West Bank political capital of Ramallah said on condition of anonymity.
   “They think an intifada is a plate of hummus they can order whenever they want it, with spices on top.”

   The calls for a new uprising came amid the most widespread riots in years in annexed Arab east Jerusalem following Israeli announcements of new settlement plans, as well as the reopening of a 17th century synagogue in the Old City several hundred meters (yards) from the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound.
   As thousands took to the streets in demonstrations in Gaza, Hamas’s exiled deputy politburo chief Mussa Abu Marzuk called for a new “intifada” along the lines of massive popular uprisings in 1987 and 2000.
   But the occupied West Bank remained largely quiet, with few turning out even for the peaceful demonstrations called for by various political factions.
   Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said he remained committed to a peaceful resolution of the decades-old conflict, telling reporters: “We are determined to reach peace through negotiations. There is no other way.”
   The muted response was largely due to efforts by his Western-backed Palestinian Authority to prevent things from getting out of hand.
   Hamas has had little visible presence in the West Bank since the Authority cracked down on its activities in the wake of the Islamist group’s bloody takeover of Gaza in June 2007.
   “Hamas and Israel want to return the region to a state of violence and chaos,” said Adnan al-Damiri, a spokesman for West Bank security forces loyal to Abbas, who ban all non-licensed demonstrations.
   “Right-wing Israeli governments since 1996 have tried to provoke the Palestinians and drive them to violence, because this is the court where Israel prefers to play,” he said in a statement distributed to police.
   The lack of interest in a new intifada is also linked to the bitter factional infighting between Abbas’s secular Fatah movement and its rivals in Hamas, which has bred widespread apathy among Palestinians.
   “Any intifada requires popular leadership,” a Hamas official in the West Bank said on condition of anonymity. “At the moment there is no unified Palestinian leadership to lead any intifada, even in Jerusalem.”
   The Palestinians have repeatedly expressed outrage at Israel’s expansion of settlements and perceived threats to holy sites in east Jerusalem which Israel annexed in 1967 in a move not recognised by the international community.
   But there has not been a single suicide bombing in Israel in more than two years and, according to Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, only a minority of Palestinians support a return to violence.
   “Two-thirds of the Palestinian public believe the Israelis respond more to violence than to other kinds of gestures, but we do not yet have a majority today of Palestinians supporting violence,” said Shikaki of the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research.
   Another factor that may limit Palestinians’ interest in a new uprising is the United States, which has been pressuring Israel for months to halt settlements and revive peace talks suspended during the 2008-2009 Gaza war.
   A few days before the riots erupted, Washington slammed Israel for announcing the new settlement plans during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden last week to press peace efforts.
   “The US-Israeli confrontation is good news for the Palestinians,” Shikaki said.
   “In the absence of violence, the only way Palestinians believe Israelis will respond positively is by pressure from the US. In other words, pressure from the US is the substitute for Palestinian violence.”

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