Will Israel heritage sites spark next Palestinian intifada?
The declaration of two biblical tombs in the West Bank as Israel heritage sites last week sparked clashes. Though Monday was quiet, some fear a new Palestinian intifada in response.
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"Abbas doesn't think like Arafat," he said. "Arafat could not move from being a revolutionary to being a diplomat, Abbas' background is that he is a diplomat."
Palestinians and Israeli experts caution that outbreaks of violence are difficult to predict and almost always defy expectations.
The absence of peace negotiations counts as the most compelling parallel suggesting the potential for another flare-up. The 2000 riots followed the collapse of a summit at Camp David, Md. while, today, talks haven't been held in a year.
Then and now
A key difference from 2000: the Palestinian leadership is divided between Abbas in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, which has called for a new uprising.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs is the site where three Old Testament forefathers are believed to be buried. There are mosques and synagogues on the site and it has been an inspiration for violence going back to the early part of the last century. Control over Jerusalem's Old City is at the heart of the Israeli-Arab conflict and has inspired conflict between Jews, Muslims, and Christians for more that a millennium.
Israel's government insists that its declaration is just about renovating the site and that it has always kept access to shrines open to pilgrims of all religions. Palestinian officials accused the Israeli government yesterday of provoking a confrontation by allowing religious extremists into the Temple Mount complex.
Yossi Alpher, a co-editor of the online Israeli-Palestinian journal Bitter Lemons, agreed that the source of the conflict was Israeli coalition politics and that Abbas wants to control the level of the fire. He noted that the Palestinian Authority is capitalizing on the issue to ratchet up diplomatic pressure on Israel.
The new risk factor from the Israeli side, he said, is the growth in vigilantism among a fringe of the Jewish settlers – who have embarked on a retaliation "price tag" campaign in response to militant attacks and government settler evacuations.
Over the summer, a settler group torched a mosque in a West Bank village. The response then was subdued, but if that sort of activity escalates, there is potential for a Palestinian-Israeli flare up.
"At some point there's a critical mass, if Palestinians pay with lives, if the vandalism goes on, if there's the impression that Palestinian security forces are emasculated, you might see a return to acts of terror by Palestinian groups,'' Alpher said.