Mahmoud Jaraba, researcher at Erlangen Center for Islam and Law in Europe (EZIRE) in Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany.
Lihi Ben Shitrit, assistant professor at the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia in Athens.
The ostensible spark for the current violence was the rise in provocations by Israeli politicians and right-wing activists at the Holy Esplanade and clashes between the Israeli police and Muslim protesters. Palestinians have viewed these events as growing evidence of the Israeli government’s intention to institute temporal and spatial division there to allow Jewish prayer. While Netanyahu has repeatedly affirmed Israel’s commitment to the status quo, the support by members of his own government for Temple activists has convinced Palestinians that “Al-Aqsa is in Danger,” as the ubiquitous slogan that has animated the current wave warns.
But underlying the situation is Palestinians’ growing and profound sense of suffocation and loss of hope. It has become clear to both the Palestinian people and its leadership that any prospect for an effective peace process that can deliver tangible results for the Palestinians has all but closed. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas officially stated last month that the Oslo Accords have become practically obsolete. Even though its effects, such as security coordination, an enormous bureaucratic regime of checkpoints, permits, and territorial division are still palpably felt, Palestinians do not see in its framework a guarantee for an eventual Palestinian state along the 1967 borders. Making matters worse, Palestinians rightly sense that their plight has been largely marginalized from the agenda of the United States, the Arab states, and the international community, which has been preoccupied by the civil war in Syria and the fight against the Islamic State.
The expansion of Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem—and the rise in settler violence—have further worried and frustrated Palestinians. The burning to death of the Dawabsheh family near Nablus has shaken Palestinians’ already precarious sense of safety. The Palestinian Authority has been unable to offer protection from violence to Palestinians in both the territories it controls and in territories under Israeli control. Together with the worsening incompetence and corruption within Palestinian institutions and security apparatuses, this has exacerbated Palestinians’ sense of hopelessness.
It is no surprise then that the current wave of protests, as well as the random acts of violence, have been spontaneous and youth-based. They reflect the loss of faith in established political parties and actors, especially the Palestinian Authority (PA), which found itself unprepared for the size and spread of the unfolding unrest. For the PA, the possible intensification of the current unrest into a sweeping popular mobilization, of the likes of the first intifada, is a double-edged sword. A popular uprising could force Israel to the negotiation table (as had been the effect of the first intifada). But at the same time, the PA worries it will lose control to a new, younger, Palestinian leadership. The average age of Palestinians killed in the violence and protests is nineteen, according to data by the Palestinian ministry of health. They belong to a generation of Palestinians who were born, or were very young, during the second intifada and therefore have not been cognizant of the enormously painful price of violence that Palestinians endured. Moreover, most of them are not affiliated with the established political factions and do not see any future for themselves under the continuing occupation and the existing stagnant political arrangement.
The situation we are now witnessing in Jerusalem and the West Bank is a reiteration of recurring episodes that have been gradually heightening since the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir in July 2014. The scale is still not close to the one seen in 2000, which signaled the start of the second intifada, but it has already spread from Jerusalem to the West Bank and Gaza, and even to territories inside Israel proper. The development of events depends on the response of the PA, Hamas, Israel, and the Palestinian youth who are at the forefront of both protest and violence. What is clear is that the sense of frustration, suffocation and siege felt by Palestinian youth, which is shared and amplified over social media, will not disappear any time soon.