Is a new Palestinian intifada on the way?

by Claude Salhani

The UN Security Council convened in an emergency session to address the violence that flared up once again in the Holy Land as Israelis and Palestinians exchanged bullets, tear gas and knife stabbings and hurled rocks and accusations at each other.

At least seven people were killed and dozens injured. The Palestinian Authority said Israeli security forces arrested more than 900 protesters. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian Authority suspended all communication and cooperation with Israel. The violence spread to neighbouring Jordan when an attacker struck at the Israeli Embassy in Amman.

Sadly, it’s a safe bet that any resolution adopted by the United Nations regarding ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will amount to the equivalent of applying Band-Aids to a patient requiring major surgery.

The reality is that there is no alternative to reaching a lasting solution to the problem — the creation of a Palestinian state that can coexist peacefully alongside the state of Israel. Given the political realities in the region, that would require nothing short of a miracle.

If those attempting to bring peace to the troubled Middle East bothered to consult history books, they would quickly learn that, short of settling the 7-decade-old dispute in Palestine once and for all, periodic violence will inevitably continue to haunt the region.

Applying interim and temporary ceasefires and short-term peace accords only serves to fuel the animosity and general frustration that each actor in this never-ending drama collects and ultimately harbours for the other side. When that pent-up energy is released, it does so with renewed vigour, climbing to worsening levels of violence.

As for UN resolutions, suffice to look at previous ones passed by the Security Council, such as Resolution 242, adopted unanimously on November 22, 1967, after the June 1967 Six- Day War. Long considered a cornerstone for future negotiations on the Israeli-Palestinian problem, it has yet to be implemented.

The recent violence erupted after Israeli security installed metal detectors at the entrance to the Dome of the Rock, considered Islam’s third holiest site after Mecca and Medina. Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven on his winged horse, Buraq, from the site where al-Aqsa Mosque sits today. Palestinians see this latest Israeli move as an attempt to control access to the holy site.

There is a very good reason why the United Nations did not waste time in calling for the Security Council meeting, hoping to suppress the violence before it expanded. Similarly, Washington was quick to dispatch an envoy to the region hoping to quell the unrest.

Indeed, the United States and Russia saw the clear danger from an escalation of violence between Palestinians and Israelis. With large areas of the Middle East in turmoil as the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate is pushed out of Iraq and Syria, the last thing the region or the major powers want is a new active front.

But, if miracles are no longer common occurrence in the Holy Land, changes in attitude and political stances do happen. Indeed, after saying that the metal detectors at the Dome of the Rock would remain in place, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed, even if reluctantly, to remove them. As pressure mounted, the Israel security cabinet agreed to replace them with other systems.

Netanyahu’s decision to remove the metal detectors and back down in the face of Palestinian demands is itself a major change in Israel’s policy, but is unlikely to be the last word regarding this issue.

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