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The Media Line: Long-lasting Tensions: Still Grappling With the 2nd Intifada’s Legacy

Long-lasting Tensions: Still Grappling With the 2nd Intifada’s Legacy

23 years since the Second Intifada, deep resentment still exists between Israelis and Arabs living in the Palestinian territories

By Mohammad Al-Kassim/The Media Line

Twenty-three years after the outbreak of the Second Palestinian Intifada, very little has changed.

The bloodiest, most violent period between Israelis and Palestinians erupted on Sept. 28, 2000, when then-Israeli Opposition Leader Ariel Sharon, surrounded by armed Israeli policemen and soldiers, paid a high-profile visit to Jerusalem’s most fiercely contested holy site, the walled Old City compound known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

Palestinians saw Sharon’s visit as a calculated provocation, while Israel accused then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of inciting violence—two months after a failed peace summit in the United States.

“The aftermath of the Camp David summit was a political disaster for Palestinians, as it shuttered the door on any hope of establishing an independent state in the West Bank, and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital,” US-based Middle East expert Hasan Awwad told The Media Line.

Two decades after the eruption of the Second Intifada, which lasted more than five years and left over 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis dead, the situation between the two sides is grimmer than ever.

“Sharon’s visit was the spark that ignited the intifada, but the lack of progress on the negotiation front has contributed greatly to the situation,” says Awwad.

Awwad, who was living in the West Bank during the Second Intifada, says Palestinians began to feel that the euphoria and optimism following the signing of the historic Oslo Accords soon evaporated.

Brig. Gen. (ret.) Dr. Meir Elran, senior researcher and director of the domestic research cluster of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, told The Media Line that the Second Intifada, as far as the Israelis are concerned, was a “game changer.”

“The notion of the Palestinians being a partner to a peace process ended following the Second Intifada,” says Elran.

“What triggered the intifada is less important, what happened after and the level of violence and scale of casualties on the Israeli side played a major role in the attitude of Israelis toward the Palestinians,” says Elran.

He argues that the high number of Israeli causalities at the end of the Second Intifada has “hardened” many Israelis’ positions toward Palestinians—even those who supported the Oslo Accords.

“It was a total disappointment. It gave credence to those within Israel who opposed the signing of the peace agreement,” says Elran, adding, “It was a major blow to those who were willing and looking forward to the political process.”

Ramallah-based political analyst Nihad Abu Ghosh told The Media Line that Palestinians are justified in using arms in their struggle against Israel.

“According to what we perceive as international law, we have the right to resist the occupation in every way. The blame falls on Israel for the Palestinians’ use of weapons because they are defending themselves. Look at the number of Palestinians killed,” says Abu Ghosh.

The Oslo Accords stipulate a five-year interim period after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, during which permanent status negotiations were to have been held. The unwritten assumption was that these negotiations would lead to the announcement of an independent Palestinian state.

But, Awwad says, that five-year period ended on May 4, 1999, with Palestinians feeling the goal was nothing more than “a mirage.”

“Negotiations stalled, and settlers and settlements exploded in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, leaving the dream of a Palestinian state, just like that, a dream,” says Awwad.

The Oslo Accords, which were signed in September 1993, were seen then as the cornerstone of an imminent peace settlement, but little has changed on the ground.

According to European Union statistics, there were roughly 121,000 settlers living in the Palestinian territories when the landmark agreement was signed. Now the number exceeds 600,000 settlers.

Israel unilaterally withdrew forces and settlers from Gaza in 2005.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who came to power in 2005 following Arafat’s death, viewed the Second Intifada as a failure of Palestinian ambitions and a strategic mistake.

“The [Second] Intifada, to us,” says Abu Ghosh, “was not a disaster or a strategic mistake as much as the invalidation, disruption, and marginalization of the tools of the Palestinian struggle, the neglect of Palestinian national unity, and the belief that national rights are achieved only through negotiations, and if they do not succeed, then going to new negotiations. This is the logic of President Abbas, which has only led us to deepen the catastrophe, perpetuating the occupation, and pushing away our dream of an independent Palestinian state.”

But Palestinians have another issue to deal with: an internal division that began one year after the end of the Second Intifada.

The Islamist group Hamas triumphed over Fatah in elections, and the split between the Palestinians’ two largest factions has deepened since, followed by a violent confrontation in 2007 when Hamas wrestled control over the Gaza Strip from Fatah, leaving the latter to retreat to the West Bank.

Elran says the status quo between the two sides cannot continue, and he thinks “relations should be repaired, for it’s in the best interest of the two sides, absolutely.”

“We have to talk to everybody, including our archenemies,” says Elran. “But the situation is far more complicated now with the rise of the extreme right in Israel, and it’s an important factor. On the Palestinian side, there are two major issues: One is the separation between Gaza and the West Bank and the other is the advanced age of Abbas, who is not considered in Israel as a leader who would or could initiate a new line of negotiations.”

The last two years witnessed the deadliest period between the two sides in years.

In 2023 alone, at least 240 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli military raids, and 32 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians, the highest number since the end of the Second Intifada.

This year the Israeli military conducted its largest raid into the Jenin refugee camp in 23 years.

While there’s little sentiment that another intifada is brewing on the horizon, Palestinians say far-right ministers like Itamar Ben Gvir, who has made multiple visits to Al Aqsa Mosque, have been following in the footsteps of Sharon. Many say this could be the spark that ignites a third intifada.

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