Linda Heard
Arab News (Opinion)
October 27, 2009 - 12:00am§ion=0&article=127776&d=27&m=10&y=2009

There’s little good news in the West Bank and Gaza nowadays. But the long-suffering Palestinians are used to that. The problem is there’s an increasing absence of hope, which is dangerous because without hope people begin to believe they’ve nothing to lose. This is why some commentators are predicting the inevitability of a third intifada. And despite denials from senior Palestinian officials, such as former Security Chief Mohammed Dahlan, a spontaneous uprising remains a very real possibility.

This is not due to Palestinians craving a return to armed protest. Indeed, most have painfully come to terms with Israel’s existence on what they consider as their historic homeland and are now ready to create a peaceful neighboring state.

Even Hamas has said it is ready to recognize a Jewish state based on pre-1967 borders. In August, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal told the Wall Street Journal that all Palestinian factions are willing to embrace international peace initiatives “to find a just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, to end the Israeli occupation and to grant the Palestinian people their right to self-determination.”

The Palestinian people have been extraordinarily patient for more than six decades of humiliation, insecurity and subsistence. They’ve tried everything in their power to live normal lives like everyone else on the planet from appealing to the international community, counting on international laws and world bodies to peaceful protest and armed resistance. Theirs is a story of continuous let-downs. Their attempts to pursue their rights through recognized legal channels have always been blocked by big powers that are sycophantic to Israel and on those occasions that they have claimed their right to resist the occupier, they have been characterized as “terrorists.”

In recent times, they have also been let down by their own leaders, who seem more concerned with either prostrating themselves before Washington or disputing with one another rather than standing united against their common enemy. Yet, they somehow manage to soldier on fueled by an unshakable belief in their own convictions. But there are certain red lines which cannot be crossed.

They may have been beaten, bombed, besieged and imprisoned without serious retaliation but there is one thing they are not prepared to tolerate disrespectful Israeli incursions into Islam’s third holiest mosque Al-Aqsa. In fact, the second intifada — also known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada — was triggered when Israel’s former hard-line Prime Minister Ariel Sharon entered the compound against all advice in 2000, accompanied by hundreds of armed men. It resulted in the death of up to 5,500 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis.

It seems the Israelis have learned nothing from recent history. On Sunday, Israeli police in riot gear stormed the mosque with rubber bullets and stun grenades ostensibly to disperse stone-throwing protesters. This desecration comes hard on the heels of an Israeli ban on worshippers over 50-years-old being allowed to enter the Al-Aqsa compound, which devout Palestinians are determined to flout. And, according to the Jerusalem Post, it also compounds Palestinian fears that “extremist Jewish elements” plan to construct a synagogue close to the mosque as well as concerns that Israel is deliberately trying to weaken its foundations by allowing archaeological digs.

For once, Fatah and Hamas are on the same page. Israel’s incursion “violates every Muslim on the face of the earth,” said a representative of Hamas, who urges Arab leaders to sever ties with Israel. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warns of “dangerous consequences” and urges Israel to refrain from further provocations.

Head of the Palestinian Supreme Judiciary Council Taysir Al-Tamimi has called upon Palestinians to acknowledge Sunday (Oct. 25, 2009) and subsequent days as “Days of Rage for Jerusalem” and asks his compatriots to come together as one in order to protect the mosque.

Khaled Meshaal has replaced his softening attitude for one that is more militant. “The fate of Jerusalem will be determined only by confrontation and not by the negotiating table,” he said. “The Israelis want to divide Al-Aqsa Mosque, and this is not all. They want to hold their religious ceremonies in the mosque... in preparation for demolishing it and building their temple there.”

The Arab League is outraged but more moderate in its response. Secretary-General Amr Moussa has asked the United Nations Security Council to prevent such assaults and to declare Israel responsible for escalating tensions. Judging by the way the Goldstone report on Israel’s war crimes in Gaza has been virtually dismissed by the veto-holding superpower, his appeal will likely fall upon deaf ears.

When Muslims make up a quarter of the planet’s population it seems astonishing how little clout they wield collectively on the world stage. It is true that the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) that represents 57 Islamic nations has warned Israel to abstain from provocation else bear grave consequences, but it has failed to spell out what these might be.

A people struggling against occupation should not be left alone to protect a holy site that is beloved by all Muslims as the place from which the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)) ascended to Heaven. Leaders of every single Muslim country from Morocco to Indonesia should be pulling out all the diplomatic stops to persuade Security Council members to get tough with Israel to prevent bloodshed as well as the lid closing on any chance of peace.

Everything must be done to prevent a third intifada. The first and the second didn’t change the status quo, so why would a third? Moreover, the Palestinians are arguably worse off today than they ever were as every year that goes by Israel shrinks land needed for a viable Palestinian state with its apartheid “fence,” house demolitions, and unhindered settlement expansions.

A third intifada would achieve nothing except play right into the hands of Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been under considerable pressure from the Obama White House to agree to permanent status talks without preconditions. He has managed to persuade President Barack Obama to drop his call for a settlement freeze but he won’t be able to keep peace talks at bay without a good excuse. Palestinians from all sides of the political spectrum must work together with the backing of the Muslim world to ensure he never gets it.

If Obama is committed to being deserving of his Nobel Peace Prize, he needs to strengthen his silvery tongue with a modicum of bite. He alone has the power to stop Israel in its tracks if only he can summon up the courage to use it.


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