Fears of third intifada as Middle East peace looks hopeless

Apr 3, 2014
Venetia Rainey

More settlement building, more civilians shot dead by the Israeli army: something has to change fast

IT HAS become one of the most depressingly predictable lines that any journalist working in the Middle East will end up writing: the peace process is failing.

This last week seems to have put the nail in the coffin of an already half-hearted attempt at some sort of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, despite the well-intentioned efforts of the ever-airborne US Secretary of State John Kerry.

So the whole thing is a mess again and, of course, the natural reaction is to throw one's hands up in the air, invoke the mantra "It's the world's most intractable conflict" and move on to the next news story.

But the situation in the Palestinian territories is deteriorating so fast it is imperative that someone takes more forceful action before something snaps.

Is John Kerry's peace plan about to collapse?

Let's look at the West Bank, which is supposed to form part of a future Palestinian state.

Last year, according to Israel's Central Bureau for Statistics, authorities began building twice as many settler homes as in the previous year - 2,534, up from 1,133. All settlements are considered illegal under international law, something Israel continues to disregard.

Just last month, Israel approved building plans for 184 new homes in east Jerusalem, the proposed future capital of a Palestinian state, and in January the country signed off on 272 housing units in two settlements well beyond the internationally recognised Green Line.

And as Israel uses concrete to establish facts on the ground, violence is on the up too.

According to Israeli rights organisation Peace Now, there has been a "clear escalation" in so-called "price tag" attacks, aka violence by hardcore right-wing Israeli settlers against Palestinians as punishment for anything that damages the settlement movement.

Such attacks include everything from racist graffiti to torching mosques and olive groves. There were 41 instances last year, and there have already been 15 such attacks this year.

None of those activities are sanctioned by the Israeli government, but there is a growing trend of violence that is.

Israeli forces killed 26 civilians in the West Bank in 2013, up from nine the year before, according to Human Rights Watch. Amnesty International described the state as having a "callous disregard for human life" in a report released this February titled Trigger-happy: Israel's Use of Excessive Force in the West Bank.

Last month alone, seven people were shot dead by the Israeli army: two young men and a teenage boy during a raid in a Jenin refugee camp, one of whom was allegedly a terrorist; a 14-year-old boy who was seen trying to cut through the separation barrier; a young man who was shot dead in his car for unknown reasons; a young man who threw rocks at an Israeli car and a bus; and a well-respected Jordanian judge of Palestinian origin, whose death at a Jordan-Israel border crossing provoked outrage but remains shrouded in mystery.

Very few soldiers are ever punished for such actions, which tend to be explained as the response to a provocation.

The spate of deaths has led many Palestinians to question whether a third intifada, or uprising, is coming - a clear sign of how little faith there is in the peace process between the aging, technically illegitimate Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Worst of all, any hope of implementing the only solution acceptable to most Palestinians and Israelis is almost gone. It's a real sign of how bad things have got that Abbas's own son no longer believes in the two-state solution that his father has dedicated his life to, and instead is backing a one-state solution, something the 48-year-old spoke about in a rare interview with the New York Times.

“If you don’t want to give me independence, at least give me civil rights,” Tareq Abbas told the paper.

At the moment Palestinians have neither, but how long can that continue? If the world doesn't want another violent Middle Eastern conflict, something will have to shift - and soon.

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