"The Palestinian arena is hurtling headlong towards escalation," remarks Palestinian commentator Hani al-Masri on the independent Palestinian news-portal www.masarat.ps.
True, it may come gradually, but it will continue to build up until it either triggers an explosion or an intifada. Why do I believe this?
In principle, matters should be heading towards an intifada, but there are indications that point to this not being the only possibility. We may witness a major explosion instead of intifada. We see harbingers of an explosion in the insane escalation of a hardline government and Palestinian responses marked by spontaneity, individualism, and regionality, as well as the lack of organization, leadership and central regulating objective. The factions are aged, decrepit, and refuse to change, while new, active parties and movements have yet to be born. The PA is weak and growing weaker, and Hamas is more focused on its own establishment than anything else. It is in its besieged establishment's objective interest for its counterpart in the West Bank, the PA, to deteriorate so as to garner it legitimacy and support, on the grounds that the latter's existence is needed only to perpetuate the split and to advance the 'Palestinian entity' as a viable, acceptable solution in the era of the Israeli annexation government. Moreover, the Gaza establishment does not represent an alternative national model, but a factional one.
Likewise, neither the overall opposition forces nor factions outside the two sides of the split have been able to present a vision and road map for national salvation. Despite endless petitions and initiatives, these either remain stuck at the starting point or quickly dissipate, to be replaced by a new initiative or initiatives. Therefore, the prospect of an explosion unfortunately rivals that of an intifada and may eclipse it.
An intifada is a major, popular movement that may be spontaneous or organized, or may begin spontaneously and develop into an organized movement, much as the first intifada began organically and then became organized. In contrast, the second intifada began at the decision of the Palestinian leadership led by Yasser Arafat.
An intifada requires a main goal that people are confident can be achieved, in the sense that it is driven by great hope. An intifada may occur as a reaction or an attempt to ward off impending dangers, but it has no chance of succeeding if it does not develop beyond that.
An intifada in Palestine does not earn the name unless it continues for some time. It is not enough for it to last a day or two or several, or even a week or two or several. Rather, it endures for months or years and is marked by broad, widescale participation encompassing different regions, factions, age groups, forces, and even classes. Therefore, the waves and uprisings that the Palestinian territories have witnessed since the end of the second intifada do not bear the intifada designation, despite bearing similarities to it in some respects. They were spontaneous, individual, and localized movements seeking to achieve a local, national goal. Examples include the uprising over metal detectors and cameras in Jerusalem, the Marches of Return that sought to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip, the prisoner strikes and protests on their behalf, and revolts in defense of the land against cancerous settlement expansion in many places, including Beita, Khan al-Ahmar, Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah, and in defense of al-Aqsa Mosque.
These incidents took the form of armed confrontation in the case of the resistance in the Gaza Strip, the knife uprising, and the operations carried out by lone wolves and the Jenin Brigade, Lions' Den, and other brigades. For all their importance, these movements did not spread to different regions, adopt a holistic program, or form an integrated, alternative broad front or leadership. Nor will they be capable of doing so on their own. Meanwhile, the long-standing factions with experience and resources contented themselves with expressing support of acts of individual resistance and hiding behind or celebrating military operations, even those carried out by children.
The waves and uprisings that the occupied territories have witnessed may be considered the new form of intifada, for the following reasons:
First: They are the result of the occupation authorities' actions in building the apartheid wall and dividing the territories with military checkpoints and assigning them the designations of Areas A, B, and C, Jerusalem, and Gaza, and closed military zones, nature reserves, archaeological and historical sites, and strategic sites with water basins and natural resources.
This is a critical factor in explaining one reason why the uprisings and waves have not evolved into an all-out intifada, despite the fact that in the past, it would have taken far less than the measures of the past twenty years to trigger an all-out intifada. It is all because the occupation decided, since the end of Operation Defensive Shield, not to keep forces stationed in heavily populated cities and instead chose to man hundreds of checkpoints crisscrossing the West Bank, typically within kilometers of city limits, making engagement with them much more difficult and costly. A protest has to venture a few kilometers before encountering occupation forces, and the same goes for armed resistance cells. This necessitates focusing on different forms of resistance that are more feasible and highly varied.
Second: The potential for the waves and uprisings to develop into intifada is undermined by the fact that the official leadership does not want it, and indeed has forsaken it, unlike Yasser Arafat's leadership movement. In the wake of the second intifada, the PA entered a second phase in which it became more dependent and submissive to the occupation authorities and the heavy restrictions imposed on it by the Oslo Accords, but with a new, significant change: The PA continued to fulfill its political, economic and security obligations, without Israel fulfilling its end of the bargain in return and without there even being a political process, even as a formality, or mutual commitments. This has rendered the limited, self-rule of the PA a final arrangement, when it used to be a transitional phase that was supposed to lead to a final status solution that ensures the Palestinian state's establishment.
In the same vein, the PA, which despite its commitment to Oslo engaged in military combat shortly after its establishment in the tunnel riots and the second intifada, now operates on the basis of avoiding any confrontation with the occupation and opposing the development of the uprising and waves into an intifada. This, along with the inter-Palestinian split, is the main obstacle preventing ongoing clashes from turning into an intifada.
Third: After decades of occupation and over 15 years of division, an entire new structure has formed and taken root. Certain individuals and sectors have risen to the surface of this structure whose interests collide with the outbreak of clashes and all-out intifadas. This is why we have the equation of security coordination in exchange for economic facilities in the West Bank, and the equation of calm in exchange for economic facilities via indirect negotiations in the Gaza Strip.
The eruption of all-out intifada is impeded by the fact that past intifadas and battles, despite their dear sacrifices and great heroism and their contribution to maintaining the Palestinian people's presence on their land and keeping the cause alive, did not achieve victories commensurate with the sacrifices. Instead, in the wake of the first intifada, which came close to achieving victory in one of its glorious moments, we ended up with the Oslo Accords with all its disadvantages and harsh restrictions. And in the wake of the second intifada, despite the achievements, we ended up in a worse situation than provided by Oslo, as evidenced by our current plight. This is a crucial point, because the hope of victory is far more influential than despair in sparking intifadas.
If we find a solution to the conundrum that has so far prevented us from achieving victory, then it will rekindle hope among the Palestinian people and drive them to a greater intifada than those of the past – one capable of achieving a great victory.
The first intifada failed to achieve victory due to external reasons that we have no room to go into here, as well as internal reasons. The most significant of these were the haste to reap the fruits before they were ripe, the desire to cling to the leadership reins for fear of an alternative leadership emerging from among PLO ranks, the competition between Fatah and the PLO on one side and Hamas and Islamic Jihad on the other, mistaken illusions about the political process and the potential for negotiations and concessions to lead to a settlement that includes the establishment of a Palestinian state, and losing wagers on the evolution of the Israeli and U.S. position in a manner that paves the way to a balanced settlement and on the Arab and Muslim genie emerging from the bottle.
The second intifada failed to achieve victory because its driving motivation was the reaction to the failure of the Camp David summit and the pursuit of improving negotiating conditions, instead of adopting a new, alternative path that focused on changing the balance of power and breaking free of the Oslo provisions. The second intifada was marked by extreme militarization and a weak popular dimension. The competition over leadership, representation, and decision-making between Fatah and Hamas, which was trying to establish an alternative PLO at the time, also contributed to its defeat.
Based on the foregoing, we must strive to provide the required elements for an intifada, as follows: A unified leadership, a viable, overarching national objective, and a broad national front. This entails giving priority to ending the split, restoring unity based on national, democratic, consensual foundations and true partnership. This does not mean forsaking everything and doing nothing using the split's existence as an excuse. It is possible to combine efforts to end the split, without falling for illusions or into old ruts, and maximizing the achievements that can be made without waiting for the end of the split.
Explosion and intifada are in a race against each other, and the explosion is in the lead, due to the lack of the elements needed for an intifada, most notably a vision, leadership, program and political will, as well as the perpetuation and deepening of the split. The occupation is more capable of utilizing and containing an explosion to its advantage than it is of utilizing and containing an intifada.
There is still hope, because no one can divine the unknown and predict the future with complete certainty.
"There is always the potential for the unexpected to happen, although the chances are slim in the immediate future and significant in the long-term," concludes Masri.