Saturday, 10 October 2015  -  26 Dhul-Hijjah 1436 H
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Occupation violence



The spike in violence in and around East Jerusalem forced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to postpone a meeting in Berlin with Chancellor Angela Merkel. In response to the clashes, Netanyahu has also asked all Knesset members and ministers to refrain from visiting the Jerusalem holy site of Al-Haram Al-Sharif. While the German postponement may be regular procedure for a leader facing a major escalating crisis at home, the ban on lawmakers shows anxiety and grave concern by the Israeli leadership that the clashes will soon lead to an explosion. It was in 2000 that Ariel Sharon visited Al-Haram site, a move so provocative that it was widely seen as having helped ignite the second Palestinian intifada.

And therein lies the big question: Is Palestinian uprising No 3 on the doorstep?

It is still perhaps too early to tell, but the violence is ratcheting up at a quick and dangerous pace. The three stabbing attacks by Palestinians on Thursday were the latest in a series of knife and gun attacks on Israelis, many concentrated in Jerusalem. These attacks came after hundreds of Palestinians were wounded and two shot dead, including a 13-year-old boy, in clashes with Israeli forces in the West Bank over the same period, and attacks by Jewish settlers and restrictions imposed by Israel on access to Al-Haram. The violence has spread beyond Jerusalem and the West Bank, the historical hot spots, to deep inside the Israeli heartland.

Netanyahu’s pledge that this is “a fight to the death” is not conducive to a resolution. His announcement of a package of new measures that include swifter demolition of the homes of those accused of attacks, broader use of detention without trial for suspects, and police and troop reinforcements for Jerusalem and the West Bank will only make the situation worse.

Netanyahu is facing pressure from right-wing members of his governing coalition to respond forcefully. The hardliners within his own governing coalition have been pressing for a harsh crackdown and settlement expansion in the West Bank, which will lead to more deadly riots. This risks the outbreak of a full-fledged uprising like those in the 1980s and 2000s. It also reinforces the belief that Netanyahu will never make the serious moves necessary to reach a settlement.

Palestinians resent the circumstances around the Al-Aqsa compound, for they simply do not believe repeated Israeli assurances that there are no plans to change the status quo under which Jews are allowed to visit the site but not to pray there. There are Jews who want to challenge that arrangement and assert a Jewish right of prayer at the site.

 But there is also the continuing Israeli occupation and the widespread sense that the whole issue of the two-state solution has been shelved. The Russian adventure into Syria and before that the Iranian nuclear deal pushed the Palestinian-Israeli problem off the front pages, and when it does make headlines, it is about the violence, not about any peace effort to stem it. Rarely, in the past several decades, has there been so little heard of the peace process, made worse by President Obama’s forecast that he sees no talks during the year that is left to his presidential term.

The truth is that no one can really predict what will happen next. The sudden uptick of violence over the course of the last few days and weeks may subside just as quickly as it started or it may veer completely out of anyone’s control.

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