Mahmoud Abbas's Struggle to Prevent a Third Intifada; the Palestinian President Is Doing All He Can to Prevent a Third Intifada While Dealing with a Population Overwhelmingly in Favor of Attacks

By Lynfield, Ben | Newsweek, January 29, 2016 | Go to article overview

Mahmoud Abbas's Struggle to Prevent a Third Intifada; the Palestinian President Is Doing All He Can to Prevent a Third Intifada While Dealing with a Population Overwhelmingly in Favor of Attacks


Lynfield, Ben, Newsweek


Byline: Ben Lynfield

At the Palestinian refugee camp Qalandiya, just north of Jerusalem, residents have turned the community center into a mourning area for the nine young men from the camp who have died in attacks on Israelis or clashes with Israeli forces since October. On a recent afternoon, men sat on plastic chairs in the center, sipping black coffee and talking about the year ahead. Hope was in short supply. "If there is no political solution, this haba [rising] will continue and escalate," says Jamal Lafi, head of a local residents committee.

The latest wave of violence erupted last fall, after Israeli police clashed with Palestinian demonstrators at Jerusalem's most hotly contested religious site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. Since early October, Palestinian attacks, mostly stabbings and car rammings, have left 24 Israelis dead. Over the same period, according to Reuters, Israeli forces or armed civilians have killed at least 144 Palestinians--92 of whom Israeli officials described as assailants. The attacks have seemed almost spontaneous and are often celebrated on social media.

But for all of Lafi's fears, there are significant factors that may prevent the violence from reaching the levels of a full-scale uprising. This haba has so far been limited to "lone wolf" attacks. There have been no suicide bombings, which were common in the Second Intifada. More than 1,000 Israelis and more than 5,000 Palestinians died during that conflict, which began in 2000 and ended in 2005.

Although Palestinians in the West Bank tend to sympathize with the new uprising, most have avoided participating in it. This may be in part because the death toll in the Second Intifada was so high and the violence did little to resolve the conflict. This time around, the Israeli military has generally refrained from steps that would encourage mass participation in the violence, such as closing the gates on the Palestinians who work in Israel or on Jewish settlements.

But another crucial reason why the unrest has not morphed into an all-out uprising is that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has taken an increasingly tough stance against this happening. Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly charged Abbas with inciting the violence, Israeli security experts have said they believe Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) are working to discourage attacks and prevent another intifada. Since the end of the Second Intifada, Abbas, 80, has called upon the Palestinians to reject armed struggle and mount a campaign of nonviolent resistance to Israel's occupation of the West Bank, a message many Palestinians seem to reject.

A December poll from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) showed that 67 percent of the Palestinian public supports knife attacks. In addition, 66 percent of those polled believe that if the unrest develops into an "armed intifada, " the violence would serve Palestinian national interests in a way that negotiations have not. That leaves the Palestinian president increasingly at odds with the people he leads.

At Qalandiya, residents speak with pride of family members they have lost in the fighting. Nasser Abu Ghuweileh, whose son Wisam died while carrying out a car-ramming attack at the Israeli settlement of Adam in the West Bank, refuses to accept the traditional words of condolence, Tislam rasak (May your head be safe). Instead, he replies with a pained smile, "You should congratulate me on his martyrdom."

Young people in the camp echo Abu Ghuweileh's defiance, saying they want their camp to become a symbol of what they hope will become the Third Intifada. "We can't stop now. We will continue, and if we die, others will follow our path," says Hussein Shehadeh, a 21-year-old electrician.

Abbas doesn't share that vision, and he has deployed Palestinian security forces to prevent young Palestinians like Shehadeh from coming into face-to-face contact with Israelis. …

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