If Netanyahu provokes an intifada, he will not reap the rewards Sharon did 23 years ago

The Palestinians are paying the price for Israeli divisions. To appease the Israeli minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allowed him to have his militias, giving him a carte blanche to persecute Palestinians.

At sunrise on Wednesday, while Muslims were observing the holy month of Ramadan by praying at Al-Aqsa Mosque, Israeli police stormed it, injuring 12 people and arresting 400.

The Israelis also closed, during the Passover holiday, the checkpoint that provides access to Jerusalem from the West Bank and Gaza, which this year coincides with Ramadan, when many Muslims wish to visit the mosque. Were the Israelis attempting to instigate a fight? Is this deja vu? Are we seeing a repeat of the events of the year 2000 and the second intifada?

There is nothing that unites people more than a common threat. We should remember that 23 years ago, Ariel Sharon, accompanied by hundreds of Israeli riot police and few Likud politicians, marched up to Al-Haram Al-Sharif.

A few years before that, the Oslo II Accord was signed in Taba, Egypt, in 1995. It marked the start of the Oslo peace process, based on UN Resolution 242 and Resolution 338, with the aim of securing the “right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.”

Though the Oslo process did not really include the establishment of a true state, nor real sovereignty, it nonetheless gave Palestinians hope that they might have a better future. They had an “authority,” they had their own police.

Since the establishment of the state of Israel, Israelis have perceived a threat from the Palestinians and the wider Arab community. This perceived threat has helped keep Israeli factions working together, despite their differences.

We should not forget that the Israelis are not part of a nation; they are part of a nation in the making. Israel gathers people from very different backgrounds, differing habits and norms, and differing historical roots. The Jew who came from Iraq and was very well integrated in Iraqi social fabric is very different from an Argentinian Jew or a Polish Jew who fled the Nazis.

The Jews who came to Israel from around the world spoke different languages. Most Arab and Eastern Jews spoke Arabic, while Western Jews spoke Yiddish. Hebrew was revived with the creation of the state of Israel.

Despite their differences, they all had one goal in common: To establish a state of their own. However, becoming a cohesive and coherent nation takes a long, long time. A perceived threat creates cohesion and common purpose that can override differences.

In the immediate aftermath of the Oslo Accords, the general atmosphere was one of optimism. With the absence of an external threat, however, internal Israeli divisions started to emerge. Sharon looked around and looked at himself. While he was trying to sort out internal problems, Yasser Arafat was starting to build state institutions; he even wanted to build an airport.

Sharon asked himself, is this where we are heading? The Palestinians will go on a path toward establishing a state and we will go on a path toward disintegration. This was when he decided to barge into Al-Aqsa. He willingly ignited the second intifada. It was an opportunity to destroy whatever the Palestinian Authority had been able to construct in the years after the Oslo agreement and, most importantly, it created a perceived threat to unite Israelis.

More than two decades later, Israeli society is more divided than ever, following the election of consecutive governments that could not survive for more than a year.

The fact is Israel now has to choose between ideology and reality. Some Israelis want a modern and civic state and if they are to achieve that, they realize they cannot keep Palestinians under the thumb; they need to divide historical Palestine into two states.

In the other camp we have those who believe they have a divine right to the land and refuse to compromise. Why would you compromise when you think God is on your side? At the same time, you have a prime minister who does not want to end his political career in a prison uniform.

Meanwhile, the situation in Palestine is not sustainable. It has no real economy. This is not because of a lack of skills or investment, it is due to the denial of freedom of movement for people and goods.

However, if there is any complacency about the current situation, the provocative actions of Ben-Gvir are killing it. Hence a new intifada might not be a catastrophe that Netanyahu wants to avoid. It might be a major event that allows the prime minister to gain some more time, because he would not have to side with either the realists or the ideologues — he will align them together, united against a perceived Palestinian threat.

The second intifada went well for Sharon. It destroyed whatever the Palestinians had been able to build during the so-called “peace process.” It allowed Sharon to unite Israeli society. The crimes he committed against the Palestinians were carried out with impunity. And when Sharon was on his death bed in 2014, former US President George W. Bush hailed him as a “man of peace.”

However, the situation today is different. Public opinion is not sympathetic to the current government. The Palestinian people are more determined than ever to fight for their rights and their dignity. This is for one reason: They have no other choice — Ben-Gvir, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and their ilk have backed them into a corner. They see no light at the end of the tunnel.

However, unlike the second intifada, a new one will probably increase internal Israeli divisions and create chaos. Also, the Palestinians are aware of the shifts in public opinion worldwide and they will use that to their advantage.

As much as Israel will try to portray the Palestinians as terrorists, the latter know that the world is becoming more and more sympathetic to their plight. They will fight back. They will not be cowed. The situation is likely to escalate. Israel fired at targets in Lebanon and in Gaza following rockets that were fired by Palestinian factions from Lebanon across the borders. While Gantz said — commenting on the crossfire while criticising the divisive government — that “in times of trouble we (Israelis) know how to unite,” the effects of a new intifada will not be similar to the last one. It will not weaken Palestinians while uniting Israelis. Most probably, the outcome will be different this time.

• Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib 

Related Articles

Back to top button