As Palestinian anger grows, Netanyahu faces down his own right-wing

2015-10-07 17:28
A Palestinian throws a Molotov cocktail during clashes with Israeli troops. (Majdi Mohammed, AP)

A Palestinian throws a Molotov cocktail during clashes with Israeli troops. (Majdi Mohammed, AP)

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Jerusalem - Haytham Joulani's son is getting married on Friday. He planned to shop for the celebrations and visit the Al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem, to pray before the big day.

Instead, he found himself up against an Israeli police barrier, erected amid a surge in violence, unable to enter the boisterous markets in the famed Old City or offer a prayer at Islam's third holiest site.

"I just wanted to go shopping with my wife, but the police tell me I can't go in," says Joulani, 42, a resident of the mostly-Palestinian East Jerusalem.

The police redirected him to an Israeli mall in the west of the city, the part largely inhabited by Jewish citizens.

"They are trying to humiliate us," Joulani says. Pointing to a group of tourists who are waved past the police checkpoint, his frustration grows.

Ofer Zalzberg, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, a European think-tank, warns that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to quell unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank, but his measures are creating resentment.

"What we are seeing is that Netanyahu is managing to keep, roughly, a status quo. But the level of animosity among Palestinians is increasing and there is rising support among Palestinians for using violence against Israel," Zalzberg says.

The Palestinians feel a "sense of total helplessness", he explains. Their leadership, including President Mahmoud Abbas, seems incapable of resolving their problems, including concerns that hardline Israelis will move to grab more control over Al-Aqsa.

Moreover, Jewish settlements continue to expand on the West Bank, amid land grabs and a vast network of Israeli military checkpoints.


The problem, in a way, stems from the lack of a peace process leading to a solution to the decades-old conflict. Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are long stalled and there is little prospect of getting them back on track.

The Palestinians are sceptical Netanyahu even would let them create their own state, after the prime minister rejected such a notion before elections earlier this year, though he has tried since to backtrack.

"He knows he cannot offer some political horizon," Zalzberg says, so instead the prime minister is trying to impose a security deterrence strategy. "He needs to make the threat of force credible, but he doesn't want to use force on a massive scale."

Violence has become a daily occurrence, with a mix of lone wolf attacks and organised assaults by militias. Both Palestinians and Israelis have carried out lethal attacks in recent months.

Palestinian youths have again donned their keffiyehs, the traditional scarf, wrapping it around their faces to hide their identity and protect against tear gas.

They throw stones and Molotov cocktails outside the squalid refugee camps near Jerusalem and Ramallah, targeting the security forces or Jewish settlers. Security forces react with a mix of tear gas and live ammunition.

Muhannad Abdul Hamid, a columnist with the al-Ayyam daily, which is close to Abbas, says that a third intifada, or popular uprising, is not yet on the cards.

"What we see today are sporadic and spontaneous protests over Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa," he says. "Nevertheless, if there are more people killed and settlers continue with their attacks on villages, things can really get out of hand."

The Jewish settler movement has been growing increasingly assertive. Hardline right-wing parties are key partners in Netanyahu's government.

Keen for more radical move

Their grip over large swaths of the West Bank appears firm and analysts suggest they are now keen for a more radical move: to change the status quo in Jerusalem.

This would mean a push for greater control of the area of the Old City known as the Temple Mount to Jews and Haram a-Sharif to Muslims, where the Al-Aqsa mosque sits.

Netanyahu has the advantage that the settlers and their leadership will has difficulty in forcing his hand to be more aggressive against the Palestinians.

It would be risky right now to cause a collapse of his right-wing government, which is largely friendly towards the settlements, even if there are some restrictions on large-scale expansion.

The alternative government could see the centre-left Labour party enter into a coalition with Netanyahu, with demands for limiting settlement expansion and restarting the peace process with Abbas.

"Those who outflank Netanyahu on the right, their main weakness is that they have no one to replace him," says Zalzberg.

Outside the Old City, Murad Abu Sneineh, 24, says police prevented him from going to his home, behind the Ottoman walls. He will have to find a place to sleep elsewhere.

"This is why there is trouble in the city. When police act this way towards us, there will be trouble."

Read more on:    palestine  |  israel

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