Violence between Palestinians, Israelis may spread

08:33, September 30, 2009      

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Violence between Palestinian Muslim prayers and Israeli troops and Jewish worshippers on Sunday at the holy site of al-Haram al-Sharif in East Jerusalem, or known as Temple Mount to the Jews, may spread in the near future, analysts said.

Clashes erupted between Palestinian Muslim prayers and Israeli police forces as the latter accompanied a group of Jewish worshippers who tried to break into the yard of al-Haram al-Sharif, where the Muslims first shrine al-Aqsa mosque is, resulting in injuries of dozens of Palestinians and Israeli police.

The violence continued on Monday, the eve of the festival in the Jewish calendar, the Day of Atonement. Since then, Palestinians and left-leaning Israelis have warned of more violence if Israel fails to make real moves on the peace front.



CAUSES OF VIOLENCE

It has been some time since such scenes of Palestinian youths hurling rocks at Israeli security personnel and police officers firing tear gas and rubber bullets were witnessed in Jerusalem's Old City.

The root of the latest clashes is still being investigated, but the incident has once again turned the spotlight on the very fragile calm between Israelis and Palestinians.

On two previous occasions, Palestinian frustration with Israel developed into what subsequently became known as the first and second intifadas or popular uprisings.

The first began in late 1980s and was a popular uprising in the literal sense, with groups of youths taking on the Israeli armed forces in a struggle that lasted for seven years. The second intifada began in 2000, arguably sparked off by a visit to the Temple Mount by then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon.

Michael Sfard, the legal adviser to the left-wing Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, believed that the Palestinian frustration is not only based on Israel's perceived failure to move towards a resumption of peace talks, but also on the fact that the Israeli military and other security forces take the side of the Jewish settlers and not that of Palestinians living in the West Bank.

Sfard's major work is centered on the rural areas of the West Bank, where there is plenty of interaction between the Israeli and Palestinian farming communities. All too often these meetings are unpleasant.

"The tension is mounting all the time. There's a big difference between what's being spoken about in diplomatic circles and what is happening on the ground," said Sfard.



VIOLENCE MAY SPREAD

Sfard sees an outbreak of violence as only being a matter of time. While preferring not to call it a third intifada, he sees it as being very similar in nature to that of the first intifada. He believes the violence will emanate from the ground up and will be popular in nature.

"The level of violence will be high, but I think it will not be led or pre-planned," said Sfard.

The chances of Palestinians resorting to violence are not just based on political ill will of the Israelis but on the more down-to-earth factor of the way in which Palestinians are treated day to day, member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council Abdullah Abdullah told Xinhua on Tuesday. Fatah is the senior movement in the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).

"Violence doesn't need a political decision to start. If the lives of the people are reduced to humiliation, no one can expect or predict the reaction. Therefore we are trying to do our utmost to calm down the situation," said Abdullah.

Shaul Goldstein, the head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, sees the matter differently. His council is responsible for a bloc of Jewish settlements that lies between Jerusalem and Hebron and predominantly runs to the west and south of Bethlehem.

Goldstein believes that when the Palestinian leadership warns of potential violence it is immediately showing that "its true intention is not to sign a peace deal with Israel."

"As someone who is out in the field all the time I can tell youth at Palestinians are trying all the time to attack Jews. There are so many warnings and attempted attacks. We're just very lucky that the Israel Defense Forces works well," he said.

While the politicians talk in generics and accuse one another of laying down preconditions to peace negotiations, the territory itself is heating up. At the grassroots level both sides are increasingly speaking of possible violence ahead and blaming one another for the deterioration in relations.



PREVENTING VIOLENCE

"To stop this Israel must simply do what is written in law. I'm not even talking about ending the occupation and reaching peace, but at least to restrain the settlers and their construction, to defend Palestinians from settler violence and to investigate complaints against Israeli soldiers, police officers and civilians," said Sfard.

Goldstein offers solutions of his own, some of which cannot be implemented overnight. The PNA must realize that the international Road Map peace plan calls on the Palestinians "to end terror, to make governmental reforms and to end incitement," he said.

These are all clearly stated in the first phase of the peace plan, he said, adding that "the Palestinians must not educate their children to go down the path of violence."

On the political level, some of these issues will be up for discussion at the end of this week when Palestinian and Israeli negotiators meet U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell in the United States. Mitchell is then expected in the Middle East once again, probably early next month.

Following that visit, he and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are slated to present an interim report to U.S. President Barack Obama on the progress in rebooting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Subsequently, Obama will reportedly produce an updated peace proposal based on the administration's talks with various Israeli and Arab leaders over the last six months.

Source: Xinhua
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