The Palestinian street burst in anger today and this should come as no surprise to anyone. The protests in Jerusalem and Ramallah, as well as the riots in Jerusalem´s Old City last Friday, are the result of weeks of straight-forward provocations by Israel. These provocations reached their zenith with Israel´s declaration of historical sites in Hebron and Bethlehem as part of Israel´s national heritage, the approval of 1600 new settler homes in East Jerusalem, and the inarguaration of a synagogue near the Al-Aqsa mosque.
Coincidence? What lies behind Netanyahu´s strategy of escalating tension? After all, Hamas has been crushed in the West Bank and left to rule a besieged fiefdom in Gaza. There has never been a more collaborative Palestinian leadership than the one at present. The Haaretz even went as far as calling prime minster Salam Fayyad the „Palestinian Ben Gurion“ a few weeks ago.
The answer probably lies in the current negative developments taking place in US-Israeli ties. Notice that „negative“ is always relative; even the humiliated Joe Biden – it was at his presence that the construction of the new Jerusalem settlements was announced – reiterated that the US has no better friend than in Israel. Who after all can forget 1973, when the US airlifted Israel out of the brink of defeat, or 1982 and 2006, when Israel was carpet-bombing Beirut with US approval and bombs. It was less than ten years ago that George W. gave Sharon – that man of peace, Obama would later tell us – the green light to hunt down Arafat, the „Palestinian Bin Laden“.
US-Israeli ties were never perfect. The US has always made clear to Israel that the latter´s expansionist aspirations must always be in harmony with the general outlook of Washington´s imperial interests in the Middle East. It is quite happy and willing to fund the Zionist colonization project in the entire area of historical Palestine so long as this does not affect the standing of the subservient Arab regimes it supports across the region, as the rulers of those countries must give their people a reason for sticking to the US for so long. This is why the image of the „honest broker“ is needed. That is why the US prevented Israel from retaliating against Iraq when Saddam fired missiles against it during the 1991 Gulf War. It practically forced the Likud government back then out of office and was happy to see a „peace“-willing Labour government replacing it. Now and then, the signal is clear: Any support for Israel´s colonization project must be accompanied by a semblance of peace overtures by its government towards the Palestinians. What is misleadingly called the Peace Process was always based on the assumption that it is much more effective for Israel to rule over the Palestinians through a collaborative leadership. This was traditionally the tenor of the Zionist „Left“ of Rabin, Peres and Barak. This Zionist „Left“ might be irrelevant today in terms of organization, however, its discourse was adopted by the Zionist Right of Sharon, Olmert and Livni. Those right-wingers have come to understand that following this philosophy is much more effective in giving Israel´s policy in the West Bank and Gaza a legitimation by the international community, that is, the United States and its camp followers. Netanyahu, however, is for the moment reluctant to fully adopt this narrative. He probably hopes to serve narrow political interests like the survival of his fragile government composed of his own Likud party, as well as Lieberman´s Yisrael Beitenu and the ultra-orthodox Shas party. What he is doing now is a series of actions intended to provoke a violent response by the Palestinians, maybe even a suicide bombing. Opening a synagogue next to the Al-Aqsa mosque isn´t coincidental; it is rather a clear religiously motivated signal to Hamas, which wasted no time in grabing the media spotlight, despite the fact that it´s organizationally almost non-existent in the areas currently under turmoil. Any Palestinian action against civilians would not only be horrendous. It would also give Israel the best pretext to launch a new spiral of politicide and destroying any existing civil society structures. But from Israel´s perspective, a pretext is needed to ease American pressure by presenting itself as under siege and to also close the political ranks on the home front. It is very unlikely though, in my opinion, that this will have the desired effect for now. The US has made its dissatisfaction with Israel´s decision to built new settlements clear. Even Angela Merkel, Israel´s best European friend, has expressed her unease with the latest developments. Those are clear signs of support to Netanyahu´s Kadima rivals. It remains to be seen what effect the latest US-Israeli row will have now on the current Israeli political landscape.
But beneath the surface, something much more important is taking place. The general feeling in the West Bank is one of alienation from the Palestinian Authority leadership. Palestinians are probably one of the most politicized people in the world and they will not wait for any signal by their leadership or the political parties to act. There is much frustration from six years of concessions by the current, widely perceived as corrupt, leadership and getting nothing in return. Should a new Intifada take place, it will be a genuine explosion of popular anger, not just against the occuaption, but also against the ruling elite in Ramallah – This is a well known secret.