Nowhere is Israel’s defiance of Mr Obama’s demand for a settlement freeze more dangerous than in Jerusalem, and it is activists inside Israel (particularly Raed Salah of the Islamic Movement of the North) who are rallying opposition to what they see as Israeli efforts to take over the Muslim holy sites (although Israel insists it has no intention of doing so). And there are elements on the Israeli side who have an interest in sabotaging any new peace initiatives by provoking confrontation in Jerusalem. A single protest turning violent could start a firestorm across the Middle East.
With Gaza under siege, much of it still rubble because Israel’s blockade has prevented construction materials from entering the territory, the potential for a new outbreak is higher still.
Despite the similarities with 2000, however, it’s worth remembering the adage that you never step into the same river twice. There are also differences: the Palestinian population is battered, and could not easily sustain another round of confrontation. Its leadership is more fractured than ever, with no Arafat figure capable of uniting even the disparate factions of Fatah, while the motives of Hamas are complex: it has been gaining steadily on the diplomatic front during the calm in Gaza over the past 10 months, and from its indirect negotiations with Israel over ceasefires and prisoner exchanges. Gazans expect them to deliver real improvements to their lives, not another pummelling by Israel. [continued…]