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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas strained to tamp down tensions in the West Bank as Palestinians protested by the thousands and called for a third intifada, and militants in Gaza broke a November cease-fire by firing a rocket into southern Israel.
"The Israelis want chaos.... We will not allow them to drag us into it and to mess with the lives of our children and our youth," Mr. Abbas said, according to Reuters, as he sought to cool tensions and cast the uptick in Palestinian anger as a result of Israeli incitement.
But Abbas is up against formidable voices who seem to see another uprising as the inevitable result of days of large-scale protests across the West Bank against conditions for Palestinian inmates in Israeli prisons, sparked by the Feb. 23 death of one such inmate.
“This is the new intifada,” said Mustafa Barghouti, a rival to Abbas in the 2005 presidential election, according to Bloomberg. “A popular resistance has started.” Calls for a third intifada come despite the fact that public sentiment still largely opposes a full uprising.
The Christian Science Monitor reported yesterday that the most recent protests come on top of frustration about the seemingly endless Israeli occupation and settlement growth, as well as Israeli and international inaction.
“The issue of the prisoners is only one point that created this eruption,” said Sheikh Issa Jaradat, the former mayor of Sair, at the funeral for deceased prisoner Arafat Jaradat. People filled every rooftop, balcony, and open patch of grass surrounding the village square as Jaradat’s coffin was carried through the crowd, sparking fierce whistling and a few gunshots.
“The fact that so many people are here shows that this is not just about the suffering of Sair. The whole West Bank is suffering,” says the sheikh. “This could easily be the beginning of an intifada.”
But, as the Monitor reports, only 32 percent of Palestinians support a third intifada, according to a poll taken before the death of Arafat Jaradat, the Palestinian inmate. Sixty-five percent oppose it, with 41 percent of them saying it will hurt the Palestinian cause.
Indeed, such an uprising could work against Palestinian interests in several ways. It could bolster Israel’s argument that it has no partner for peace, enabling it to continue expanding settlements in the West Bank unfettered by negotiations. It could also provide Israeli justification for maintaining or increasing checkpoints, arrests, and administrative detention in the name of security.
Reuters reports that international leaders had hoped the unrest in the West Bank was dying down prior to the rocket attack from Gaza, for which the militant group Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility. The news agency described the attack as “an apparent show of solidarity” with the protests. It was the first such attack since a cease-fire was signed in November to end eight days of Palestinian rocket fire and Israeli air strikes.
The Wall Street Journal reports that “Israel is taking the unrest seriously,” with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding “security consultations” yesterday and sending a representative to Ramallah to urge the Palestinian Authority (PA) to calm the protesters.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr. Netanyahu, pinned blame for the protests, some of which turned violent, on PA officials, the Journal reports. "There were elements within the [Palestinian Authority] who were actually encouraging incitement and violence," Mr. Regev said. "The Palestinian Authority has an obligation to maintain law and order."
And Amos Gilad, an Israeli defense official, told Army Radio that “It looks as if the Palestinian Authority is trying to walk a delicate tightrope: both raising unrest and displays of violence and not wanting the matter to spin out of control,” the Sydney Morning Herald reports.