A third intifada or a political process?

The situation on the West Bank is volatile, but persistent reports suggest Israel could conclude a long-term cease-fire with Hamas.

Clashes at Temple Mount (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Clashes at Temple Mount
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
ARE WE on the verge of a new Palestinian intifada? The fragile status quo and the fact that there is no political solution in sight suggest that we may well be.
Moreover, a number of recent contributing factors have made an already volatile situation worse: the murder of the Palestinian infant Ali Dawabsheh and his father Sa’ad by Jewish terrorists; the prolonged hunger strike by administrative detainee Muhammad Allan; the wounding and killing of knife-wielding Palestinian assailants in Jerusalem and the West Bank by IDF soldiers; and the violent clashes on the Temple Mount between Jews and Muslims.
All this is liable to intensify popular Palestinian antagonism towards Israel as it continues to expand Jewish settlements and force West Bank Bedouin off their lands.
On the other hand, it seems that in parallel Israel might be about to conclude a 10-year cease-fire or hudna with the fundamentalist Hamas, which controls Gaza.
According to persistent reports, the parties are conducting secret negotiations mediated by Turkey, Qatar and Tony Blair, until recently the EU special representative in the Middle East.
The focus is on lifting the siege on Gaza and building seaports and airports in return for 10 years of quiet. Despite vociferous Israeli denials, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal insists that “positive talks” are taking place. It is clear that both sides have a strong interest in cutting a deal. But, in practice, their chances of bringing it off are close to zero.
This despite the fact that the Hamas position is more nuanced than is generally recognized. Most importantly, its anti- Israel and anti-Semitic ideology and rhetoric notwithstanding, Hamas is ready for a 10-year cease-fire. This would be in line with the Prophet Muhammad’s hudaybiyyah model, where he concluded a time-limited truce with the powerful Quraysh tribe in 628.
Indeed, as far back as 1997, Sheik Ahmad Yassin, the founder of Hamas, offered Israel a 30-year hudna. In accordance with these precedents, Hamas wants a long period of quiet to restore its military power and rebuild Gaza after last year’s fighting, and to gain wider international acceptance.
Be that as it may, as far as most Palestinians are concerned, Hamas does not have the authority to sign a diplomatic treaty of any kind with Israel. In their view, any legitimate deal with Hamas would have to be part of a comprehensive agreement between Israel and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas. This is also true of most of the Arab and Muslim world.
Hamas has repeatedly said that it would not object to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, but that it will not recognize Israel. For example, Mousa Abu Marzouk, one of the senior Hamas leaders, recently declared that although Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel, it would accept a temporary solution based on two states along the 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
The trouble is that Abbas doesn’t trust Hamas and is convinced that it is out to divide Palestine, and to establish a separate Palestinian state in Gaza with Israel’s help.
Despite Jerusalem’s insistent denials, it seems there may be a kernel of truth in this.
Israel has a strong interest in improving the economic situation in Gaza to prevent another eruption of violence.
Moreover, with few other viable options, Israel sees in Hamas a potential partner in the fight against ISIS and other more radical groups. We can also assume that the current right-wing government would not be averse to Hamas establishing a mini-state entity in Gaza, which would make it easier for Israel to hold onto the West Bank, on the grounds that a Palestinian state already exists.
If that really is the government’s intention, it is doomed to resounding failure. It makes no more sense than the futile demands by some cabinet ministers during last summer’s fighting to “destroy” Hamas or to disarm it during the hostilities or in the cease-fire negotiations that followed.
is only a small fraction of Palestinian land, no agreement with Hamas can hope to solve the Palestinian problem.
The larger focus is on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as the questions of Jewish settlement and Palestinian refugees.
Without resolution of all these thorny issues, the establishment of an independent (demilitarized) Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip alongside Israel will not achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians or between Israel and most of the Arab and Muslim states. Moreover, the majority of the international community will condemn and possibly even punish Israel when, after annexing the West Bank, it slides down the slippery slope to apartheid.
True, over the years, there have been genuine attempts by Israel and others to resolve the conflict. The sad fact though is that they all failed. In the mid-1990s, the initially promising Oslo peace process foundered, partly because of grave terrorist acts by opponents of the deal on both sides, Hamas on the one hand, and Jewish extremists on the other – for example, the massacre by Baruch Goldstein of 29 Muslim worshipers in Hebron in 1994, and the assassination a year later by Yigal Amir of the peace-making prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
In 2000, then US president Bill Clinton’s important peace plan was rejected primarily by PLO leader Yasser Arafat. The international Quartet’s (US, UN, EU and Russia) attempt to resurrect the process through its Peace Roadmap of 2003 failed because of continuing Palestinian terror and a string of reservations by then prime minister Ariel Sharon.
The parallel Saudi-Arab League peace plan, endorsed by the Arab world and backed by the Muslim states, failed to elicit an official Israeli response. Unprecedented, it offered Israel peace, security and normalization of relations with the entire Muslim world in exchange for its agreement to establish a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital.
It was only in 2008 that prime minister Ehud Olmert presented the Palestinians with a far-reaching peace plan. It included recognition of a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines with land swaps, East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and international supervision of the holy places. Regrettably, Abbas dithered over the proposal and may well be ruing the fact that he missed the moment. There is no chance whatsoever of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or even opposition Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog making a similar offer.
DESPITE HIS declarations about his commitment to a two-state solution, Netanyahu has no intention of agreeing to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state along the 1967 lines, or conceding sovereignty over East Jerusalem and control of the Temple Mount. These hard-line positions not only rule out any possibility of a political deal with the Palestinians, but could actually spark a third intifada or worse, trigger a much larger Jewish- Muslim war.
More violence on the Temple Mount could be a catalyst for such a worst case scenario. As much as we may condemn violence by Palestinian extremists, it seems that the more central role in undermining the status quo on Temple Mount has been played by Jewish extremists, including some Israeli government ministers, through deliberately provocative actions on sites holy to Islam.
Indeed, we should not forget that then opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s ill-fated ascent to the mount in September 2000, accompanied by hundreds of police, lit the fuse that started the al-Aqsa intifada.
Nevertheless, many in the religious Zionist camp have over the past few years been going up to the mount to pray – breaking a several hundred year-long status quo and violating a halakhic prohibition issued by the Chief Rabbinate. Some radicals even call for the destruction of the Temple Mount’s al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques and the erection of a Third Jewish Temple on their ruins.
Regrettably, these are no longer marginal occurrences. They express a rising messianic tide supported by radical religious right-wingers in the government – with Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel of Bayit Yehudi at the forefront. All this without the government taking any preventive countermeasures or instituting longer-term educational programs.
In 1984, Yehuda Etzion, a member of the then “Jewish Underground,” planned to blow up the Islamic holy places on the Temple Mount but he and others were arrested before they could carry out their plot.
Although tried and sentenced, Etzion never expressed regret.
Given the current political climate, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that another Jewish fanatic might fire a rocket at al-Aqsa, a mosque holy to one and half billion Muslims. Then, according to the former Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) heads Ya’akov Peri and Carmi Gillon, a Jewish-Muslim Armageddon could erupt.
Moshe Maoz, professor emeritus of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University, is an expert on ethnic politics in the Middle East