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By Arieh O'Sullivan
Standing atop the ancient Herodian fortress looking over the Judean desert and Palestinian villages, Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday urged military commanders to be on constant guard against Palestinian violence, but he also warned to use a gentle hand to avoid provocations.
"Excellent work is being done here to protect the [Jewish] settlements. Everyone who passes through here must have their security guaranteed and the Palestinians, too, need to be allowed to live and act as they should," Barak said, adding that continued coordination with the Palestinian security forces would benefit both Israelis and Palestinians.
His comments come at a time of increasing tensions between the Jewish residents of the territories and Palestinians. Barak and others fear chaos could erupt, either in the form of large peaceful demonstrations or mass violent actions, if Palestinian efforts to achieve statehood flounder.
Yet, despite a history of popular mobilization and sophisticated grassroots activism supported by social media, Palestinians appear less likely than ever to engage in a major protest, violent or peaceful, whether it is out of confusion, fatigue or a willingness to give Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas time to achieve his statehood dream, analysts say.
Last month Abbas formally took the statehood bid to the United Nations' Security Council, where it is now being examined as the U.S., Europe, Russia and the UN seek to bring the Palestinians and Israelis back to peace talks. The talks have been put on hold for the past two years. Abbas' move won him rejuvenated standing and buoyed the sense of resistance among his people.
Indeed, should Palestinians demonstrate in their own cities such as Ramallah or Nablus in the West Bank, few Israelis would notice and even fewer would care. Marching onto Jewish communities or army checkpoints, would, however, elicit a forceful Israeli response that could quickly devolve into bloody violence, something a cautious Barak warned his generals about.
A recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO), conducted just prior to Abbas' UN bid, found that 25.9 percent of Palestinians were in favor of non-violent marches on barriers and settlements, with 15.2 percent supporting violent actions. But the majority of 53.4 percent preferred doing nothing.
"A lot of Palestinian leaders criticized me for this poll, saying it wasn't accurate. They survive on protests and they expected it to be higher. But it was exactly what happened. We reflect what Palestinians feel and I am glad they said what they think and not what they want their leaders to hear," Nabil Kukali, director of the PCPO, told The Media Line.
"Palestinians aren't ready for mass protests yet or a third intifada. Everything is confusing now," he said. "They generally want to give their leaders a chance to solve the problems."
Another poll, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, found that 64 percent of Palestinians do not think that a peaceful popular revolt like in Egypt or Tunisia against Israeli occupation would be capable of ending Israeli rule.
Unlike most of their counterparts in the Middle East, which has seen mass popular uprisings during the Arab Spring, the Palestinians have periodically unleashed their anger in years past. Historically, each generation has revolted. The popular first so-called Intifada of the late 1980s led to the Oslo Peace accords and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. The Second Intifada, however, was devastating and left over 4,000 dead and twice that number imprisoned, not to mention the huge economic losses, territorial fragmentation, social suffering and rise of the fundamentalist Muslim movement Hamas.
"There is absolutely a sense that the Palestinians are wary of a Third Intifada, especially if it is one that resembles the second one," Nathan Thrall, Middle East and North Africa analyst for the International Crisis Group, told The Media Line. "In terms of the other kinds of grassroots activists, the Stop the Wall campaign and so forth, I don't think we are close to that being a mass movement yet."
Israeli authorities have warned that the high spirits of the Palestinians over statehood risk devolving into violence should progress toward political gains not bear fruit. While the discontent is similar to 2000 when the violent Second Intifada broke out, the social atmosphere has dramatically changed in the Palestinian street, which is enjoying greater prosperity and still licking mental wounds from the last Israeli crackdown.
"[The Israelis] are trying to scare everyone about this and they may even try to escalate matters, but as for the Palestinian people we are not looking forward to this. A chance for a Third Intifada is doubtful because the Palestinians are not looking for any escalation," Ibrahim Daqqaq, a Palestinian university student from east Jerusalem, told The Media Line.
U.S.-trained Palestinian security forces, in coordination with Israeli security forces, have also been deployed to prevent friction between Palestinian demonstrators and Israelis in the territories. Following the UN bid there were very few incidents of friction. However, extremists from each side staged highly visible attacks that left an Israeli father and son dead and a mosque and Muslim graveyard desecrated.
Thrall of the Crisis Group said he recognized a capacity for popular revolt, but not for now.
"I don't think it is going to happen now. If anything, this UN bid has given the leadership some more time. In the immediate future everyone is waiting to see what happens at the Security Council and then after that they are likely going to be waiting to see whether there is going to be more movement in terms of internationalization of the conflict. So I think at a minimum the leadership has bought itself in the West Bank a few more months," Thrall said.
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World - Even Non-Violent Palestinian Intifada Seems Unlikely Now | Global Viewpoint