Early signs do not point toward a new ‘Jerusalem intifada’

While Palestinian leaders clamored for “days of rage” and a new “intifada” in the immediate aftermath of President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, there have been disturbances, but no sign of an uprising.

By: Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News

In response to US President Donald Trump’s speech on Wednesday recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the “days of rage” promised by the Palestinians have yet to materialize. There have been three days of relatively mild protests, with only a few hundred eastern Jerusalem Arabs participating. In contrast, last July tens of thousands of Palestinians came out night after night in violent protest, after Israel placed metal detectors at the entranced to the Al-Aqsa mosque after the shooting deaths of two policemen by three Arab Israelis who had smuggled weapons into the site.

The Damascus Gate is often the focal point of protest and violence, but in the days after the Trump speech journalist’s outnumbered protesters. Overall, life in the Israeli capital has gone on normally.

Palestinian leadership called for a general strike across Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem but many stores stayed open on the main thoroughfares. Without Arab Jerusalemites taking part in protests in large numbers, experts say the protests cannot sustain themselves.

The most serious violence since Wednesday was at the Gaza border, where Hamas allowed and actively encouraged thousands of Gazans to approach the border fence. Two protesters were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces.

Violent clashes did take place at some 30 spots in Gaza, as well as Judea and Samaria. Palestinian rioters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, and set fire to tires and rolled them at Israeli security forces. The army retaliated mostly with non-lethal riot dispersal equipment, like tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets. Palestinian officials say that over 200 people were injured over the weekend in the Judea and Samaria region and eastern Jerusalem. Most of the injured were hurt lightly from tear gas inhalation. According to the Red Crescent, seven people were hit by live bullets and 45 by rubber bullets.

Intifada fails to materialize

Indeed, despite hysteria-level incitement by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, the protests have not amounted to much. Palestinian Affairs expert Dr. Gershon Baskin told World Israel News (WIN), “This certainly does not look like an ‘intifada. If Israeli security forces manage to contain the violence for a few more days it will fade away. The next few days still have a potential for violence. The security forces have learned an important lesson to deploy overwhelming force that helps maintain the calm.” Baskin said that allowing access to the mosque for Friday prayers was a key move to calm matters.

Coordinator of government activities in the territories, Major General Yoav Mordechai stressed that the US announcement will not affect Muslim access to the mosques. “The status quo in Jerusalem in general and Al-Aqsa in particular is being preserved. Don’t listen to extremists’ incitement and calls for violence,” wrote Mordechai in Arabic on Facebook. “It is important for me to clarify beyond all doubt that despite the rumors and lies, there is no change on the ground. Friday prayers took place as usual, the crossings are open, and Palestinian workers are entering Israel,” he added. Indeed, security forces helped to defuse tensions by the decision not to limit younger Palestinian male’s access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque for Friday prayers.

No change at Jerusalem’s holy sites

Mordechai called on the Palestinians to ignore the “lies and distortions that this is a religious war.” Mordechai said violence would only harm the Palestinians themselves, who “are being incited by lies about a war [between] religions.”

Some Palestinians may have stayed away from protests because of Trump’s assurance that the boundaries of Jerusalem will still be part of a negotiated settlement, there is no change at the city’s holy sites and the status quo remains.

Security officials say Palestinians seem to be aware that the announcement by Trump has little practical significance and does little or nothing to change the reality on the ground. Trump’s declaration was not perceived as a religious matter, but rather as a national political issue, and not the type of development that tends to encourage young suicide attackers.

Numbers pale in comparison to past intifadas

Trump’s words apparently failed to whip up a furor in the Arab and Muslim street envisioned by Hezbollah and Hamas. As a result, security officials say there has been hardly any violence with murderous intent as there was during the first and second intifada. The IDF has reported an estimated 3,000 Palestinian protesters in Judea and Samaria. Even if that number is a low estimate, it still does not compare to the early days of the first and second intifadas.

Although Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh is calling protests against US President Donald Trump a “blessed intifada,” what has actually been taking place on the ground since Wednesday is nothing like the outbreak of the first intifada 30 years ago. It also does not remotely resemble the first days of the second intifada, which began following then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000.

The past two days of protests are not a case of a spontaneous, unplanned, popular eruption of anger. They are, rather, the desperate result of an intensive effort by the Palestinian Authority to mobilize the Palestinian public — an effort unprecedented since the days of Yasser Arafat. Fatah and Hamas have repeatedly urged the people into the streets, and yet only a few thousand answered the call.

Security affairs expert Dr. Gerald Steinberg told WIN, “None of us are prophets. My view is that these protests will not grow into an uprising. The Palestinians lack the leadership to drive a sustained mass protest. There may be a continuation of isolated incidents but not a spontaneous uprising.” According to Steinberg, “The first intifada in 1987 was spontaneous, while Arafat ran the uprising in the year 2000. Neither Abbas nor Hamas are capable of doing the same in 2017.”

In the coming days Israeli security forces are keeping a close watch on security developments. The prime concern right now is not over protests in the streets and the confrontations with security forces. Rather the main concern is from terrorism in and emanating from Judea and Samaria, and the possibility of a wide-spread confrontation with Gaza. The prime concern is not over protests in the streets. The main worry is over terrorism in and from Judea and Samaria, and the possibility of wide-scale confrontation with Hamas-run Gaza.