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As Israel creeps closer to its end game, there may be no third Intifada

Israeli soldiers fire tear gas at Palestinian protesters during an anti-Israel protest over tension in Jerusalem, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, on May 12, 2021 [ABBAS MOMANI/AFP via Getty Images]
Israeli soldiers fire tear gas at Palestinian protesters during an anti-Israel protest over tension in Jerusalem, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, on May 12, 2021 [ABBAS MOMANI/AFP via Getty Images]

Every year, usually during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, as if Palestinians are somehow unreactive without food in their stomachs, Israel does something that makes its security forces and their actions increasingly predictable. Like an annual festival, it launches an assault against the Palestinian population, either in the form of an aerial offensive on the Gaza Strip, or an increase in the harsh measures against Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank – or both.

Then, when Tel Aviv faces the inevitable backlash of its actions and the international community's outrage, it tones down its assault and pursues a sustained media campaign, alleging how the subsequent reactionary protests and military action from Hamas are solely responsible for the uptick in violence.

This year it has done the same, but something is different. Firstly, there is the notable lack of effort to downplay its role in the hostilities, a strange thing for a state that takes its optics more seriously than many. After investing decades and countless billions into its lobby in the West and jumping to brief the press following every major controversy or atrocity committed, which is quite often, Israel was surprisingly overt and abrasive in its aims and tactics this time.

Apart from reports that it spouted about Palestinian gunmen having allegedly headed to Jerusalem on the night of the Israeli raid into the Al-Aqsa compound and the usual broadcast of Hamas's strikes, Israel has not endeavoured to come up with any further excuses for its actions.

The increase in forced evictions from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, the takeover of East Jerusalem and the desecration of Islam's third holiest site all show a gradual move to the goal of completely annexing the potential capital of a future Palestinian state. Israel seems to no longer care about how it is perceived by the international community, or about the public opinion of Western populations.

Quite the opposite, in fact. Jerusalem's deputy mayors themselves have admitted that the forced evictions of Palestinian families from their ancestral homes in Sheikh Jarrah are for the purpose of making the holy city a distinctly Jewish one, acknowledging what many see as an act of ethnic cleansing.

This contrasts with how, only last year, Israel halted its plans to annex parts of the West Bank following a barrage of international pressure against it, amongst other reasons such as internal disagreements. Overwhelming pressure has worked in the not-so-distant past, but it seems that may be changing.

READ: Palestinian resistance imposes new rules of engagement on Israel

Such an increasingly flagrant and shameless attitude is, of course, because Tel Aviv knows that it can get away with literally any atrocity without adequately being held to account, neither by its allies like the US, nor by the Arab states surrounding it, nor even by the broader Muslim world that turns a blind eye towards the attacks against Al-Aqsa. This phenomenon was summed up perfectly by the countless statements by foreign states about their "concern", and more clearly by the US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price's refusal to condemn Israel's killing of Palestinian children.

Going a step further, Israel knows that even the very Palestinians it persecutes will not – and cannot – put up sufficient resistance in the form of a third Intifada. A new Intifada, or mass uprising, as was first seen in 1987 to 1993 and again in 2000 to 2005, has long been called for over the past 15 years and was inaccurately predicted to occur following every major Israeli assault. The topic has also recently arisen in Israeli media, which has extensively detailed and discussed the possibility, and that possibility has never been lower.

Despite all of the ingredients of a third Intifada existing and simmering – the popular anger towards Israel across Palestinian society, the desperation at stunted political developments, and the obvious increase in the intensity of Israeli oppression – the means of putting together a sustained uprising are not there. Furthermore, it seems that Israel has successfully prevented a third Intifada from materialising after learning its lesson from the first two.

Firstly, the Palestinian political scene is more disunited than ever. Despite conciliatory moves between Hamas and Fatah, or the Palestinian Authority (PA), the PA President Mahmoud Abbas's decision to cancel the long-awaited Palestinian elections due to Palestinian Jerusalemites being unable to vote has resulted in broad disappointment. Hamas subsequently condemned the PA's decision as detrimental to the future of Palestine. The Palestinian fronts, therefore, remain fragmented, unlike during the last two Intifadas.

READ: The dangerous decision to 'postpone' the election is Palestine's moment of reckoning

Add to that the physical and territorial disunity amongst Palestinians in the three main areas they populate – the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Since the start of the second Intifada, Israeli occupation authorities severely restricted the freedom of movement for Palestinians far more than before, implementing a system of permanent checkpoints, roadblocks, gates, closed roads, barriers and the infamous separation wall, which all remain today. How can Palestinians gather en masse and stage an uprising under such restrictions?

There is also the lack of any unified leadership necessary to drive an organised and strategic uprising, unlike during the time of Yasser Arafat, who, despite controversy surrounding him as well as his disagreements with other factions, was seen as the leading figure of Palestinian resistance during the Intifadas. The likes of Abbas and the corruption-ridden PA, therefore, are viewed as the antithesis of the unified leadership needed for an Intifada.

This also ties into the differing interests at play, namely that the PA and its economic situation heavily depends on Israel. This was apparent last year when Israel withheld millions of dollars in tax revenues owed to the PA in order to successfully blackmail it into resuming security coordination. An uprising supported and led by Ramallah would, for them, only further deepen those economic woes and perhaps have a more destructive outcome for the PA.

The overall situation looks bleak for anyone hoping for a third Intifada, as Israel has cleverly ensured in every way possible that no such thing can easily take place. It has seen the gaps in its security apparatus, patched them up, and now with no one able to effectively hold it to account, it no longer cares to hide its crimes against humanity or its campaign of ethnic cleansing.

READ: Israel flares the situation in Gaza to shift attention from Sheikh Jarrah eviction

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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