Last Updated: Thu Dec 22, 2011 17:49 pm (KSA) 14:49 pm (GMT)

Will Jerusalem cause a third Intifada?

Daoud Kuttab

This may be a journalistic hunch, but I have a feeling that we are about to witness an explosion in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, this time again over Jerusalem.

In 2000, a Palestinian-Israeli human rights film festival took place in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ramallah and Nazareth. The concluding event, during which the name of the winning film was to be announced, scheduled for Ramallah. It never happened, as protesters against Israeli-Palestinian normalisation marched towards the location of the event and forced its cancellation.

The reason I relate this story is that this week, two similar events were cancelled. For more than two years, Israeli and Palestinian peace activists have been working on an interesting concept: a Palestinian-Israeli confederation.

The idea was translated into a draft constitution and elections were to be held for parliament and co-presidents earlier this month.

Candidates and other speakers were scheduled to meet the public in three events, in Jerusalem’s Ambassador Hotel, at Talita Kumi School in Beit Jala (the only location legally accessible to West Bank Palestinians and Israelis) and in Haifa. Sari Nusseibeh and Yael Dayyan were among the speakers. The first two events never happened as a result of consistent and angry protest by Palestinians.

Another similar events was cancelled this week. The Palestinian Israeli Journal (PIJ) had scheduled a conference at the Galaxy Hotel, in East Jerusalem, to launch its latest issue, titled “The impact of the Arab Spring on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict”.

In responding to inquiries, the founders of the organisation noted the tremendous amount of pressure by Palestinian groups opposed to “normalisation” on the hotel owners after a Facebook group called for its boycott.

Palestinian anger at the lack of progress in peace talks should not be belittled. A look at what happened in the last few months in terms of hardening of official Palestinian position and reaction to Israel’s attempts to change the infrastructure at the entrance of Al Aqsa Mosque are indications of the severity of the situation.

The lack of progress in the peace talks, the US’ total incompetence in moving the process and the Arab Spring have no doubt contributed to this feeling of helplessness and the need to reject any perceived superficial attempt at making peace while the occupation goes on unabated.

Perhaps the most disturbing problem for Palestinian Jerusalemites today is the deterioration of their status and the feeling that no one cares about them.

While politicians at all levels give lip service to Jerusalem and Jerusalemites, the reality is much different. Israel’s concrete wall, coupled with continuous Jewish-only settlement buildings brought the people of the city to the brink of explosion.

East Jerusalem lacks any form of local leadership. Israel has barred the creation of indigenous national institutions, contrary to international law and written commitments by previous Israeli governments. The Orient House, which stood as a symbolic Palestinian reference point, continues to be closed by court order.

The chamber of commerce has been also shut down and barred from holding any public event or elections. Even cultural and sports activities are barred if the Israelis smell that they are in any way connected to Palestinian nationalism.

Last spring, a local football team was barred from holding a ceremony after winning the Palestinian football tournament, under the guise that it was a Palestinian Authority event. Israel bars the Palestinian Authority from any public activity in Jerusalem.

The day-to-day life of Jerusalemites is also a source of anger. On the one hand, the Ramallah-based leadership is prevented from involvement, on the other, the Israeli government and the West Jerusalem municipality show little interest in the quarter of a million Palestinian Arabs.

Zoning plans for East Jerusalem neighbourhoods continue to collect dust, while large Jewish settlements are being built without restrictions. And when a Palestinian family decides to expand its home or build a small family home on its property, Israeli bulldozers come rolling in to demolish them under the pretext that they are built without permits.

Social, commercial and cultural issues are also suffering. With the wall barring the usual movement of people from the surrounding towns and villages, the centre of Jerusalem is suffering greatly. Some say it has been on autopilot for so long that they are bracing for the day this plane will crash.

In 2000, Palestinian anger at the provocative visit by Ariel Sharon sparked the second Intifada. The Al Aqsa Intifada was very violent and bloody, causing deaths, injuries and destruction. It also pushed all parties to harden their positions.

In some ways, that second Intifada ended with the death of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. His successor, Mahmoud Abbas, came in with a new anti-violence policy and has been trying hard for years to walk this peaceful walk, tightening security and ending incitement to violence.

But as Abbas prepares to exit the political scene and not run for office in the May elections, the region is bracing for what will happen next.

No one wants another round of violence, but at the same time, no one will accept the continuation of humiliation and denial. Clearly Palestinians insist that they will not tolerate continued military occupation, isolation and rejection of their national rights.

Addressing these issues may help avoid another undesired round of expression of anger and its consequences.

The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in the Jordan Times on Dec. 22, 2011.

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