Is the Third Intifada Imminent?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Middle East Policy Council

Warnings of an impending third intifada are ubiquitous in Israel, Palestine, and abroad. Following the clashes between various Israeli and Palestinians groups in the area adjacent to Haram Al-Sharif and the Al Aqsa mosque (also known as the Temple Mount), there is a clear sense that the two parties are inevitably heading toward a serious confrontation. According to the various regional dailies, each party stands to both benefit and lose from another popular Palestinian uprising, and each is accused of fomenting the violence to serve their political ends. Worse, there is little to suggest that the de-escalation of the conflict is even a possibility. If anything the violence of the last few days makes further violence even more likely.

In an attempt to justify the state of Israel’s claims on the Temple Mount as well as the insistence of Israeli religious groups to be able to worship on it, Arutz Sheva’s Ezequiel Doiny tries to draw a parallel between the Temple Mount and Islam’s holiest place: “The Europeans believe that because the Jewish Temple was destroyed and there is a Mosque on the Temple Mount, the Palestinians have a stronger claim to the site: This shows a great ignorance about Judaism. Jews around the world face the Temple Mount when they pray. Muslims face Mecca even when they pray on or near the Temple Mount. Even without the Temple, the Temple Mount is the Holiest Site for Judaism. The Holiest site for Islam is the Ka’ba in Mecca. Taking away Temple Mount from the Jews would be like taking the Ka’ba in Mecca from the Arabs.”

But for others, like the Saudi Gazette’s editorial staff, the real importance of the holy site lies in its significance as a symbol of sovereignty, which is why any claim to that sovereignty by Israel would mean an all-out war: “The holy site is important because it sits at the center of not just arguments and conflict in Jerusalem but at the very heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict altogether because sovereignty of that area defines what could be a two-state solution. Attempts by Israel to block off access to the holy site are inevitably attempts to assume sovereignty over the wider area of Jerusalem….Imposing Israeli sovereignty at Haram Al-Sharif would be the ultimate breaker of everything.  Nothing would survive this, neither the peace process nor peace treaties.”

Jordan Times’ Hassan Barari sees something more sinister in the current violence, which he accuses the Israeli government of fabricating to garner domestic political support: “The Israeli right-wing Temple Mount activists’ plan to change the status quo in East Jerusalem is a perfect recipe for another bloody confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians. If their activities continue unchecked, the holy land will see nothing but doom and gloom. It is hard to believe that the Israeli government is not complicit in this plan, the implementation of which would provoke the Arab and the Muslim worlds….Netanyahu should try to clip the wings of this group whose agenda is risky for both Palestinians and Israelis. Unfortunately, Netanyahu is not in touch with reality. He thinks too much about the next election and therefore is reluctant to check this movement….Once again, an Israeli prime minister subordinates the need to create a peaceful climate to his quest for political survival.”

There is no denying, however, that the situation on the ground has become very volatile, to the point that most op-eds and editorials on the subject are leading with the question of whether the third intifada is already upon us or not. The Jerusalem Post’s David Brinn, for example, draws parallels between the current security conditions in Israel and the Occupied Territories, suggesting that the current instability has led many to feel a “a sense of free fall in Jerusalem, of events spinning out of control — they are no longer isolated incidents….Anyone who lived here through the first and second intifadas will recognize the same jittery, nervous spirit in the streets. It used to be unsafe to board a bus; now it’s unsafe to stand at a bus stop or light rail station. Pedestrians look suspiciously out of the corner of their eyes as they walk on the street….They are no longer isolated incidents. Whether it’s the third intifada or a new spin-off, Jerusalem is in the throes of the worst spate of Arab violence against Jewish residents in over a decade. The question is not what to call it. The question is: What are our leaders going to do about it? …Unfortunately, as time has proven, we can’t expect the Palestinian leadership to stop inciting and egging on unrest by creating hysteria over an imaginary Israeli takeover of the Temple Mount.”

But for some, it is no longer a question of whether the third intifada will begin, rather who is most likely to benefit from it. Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ron Ben-Yishai is certain that it is the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, who is behind the current “national uprising”: “For ten months now a national uprising of the Palestinian people has been occurring. It is not similar to its predecessor, and is usually kept on low heat, but it cannot be mistaken: it is part of Mahmoud Abbas’ strategy, with the help of the Israeli right-wing…. this time the extreme nationalist right-wing Israelis made sure to maintain it through provocation on their part. It helps Abbas and his people to disguise their role in inciting the Palestinian street and allows them take advantage of the unrest for the maximum political and PR value….There are those who claim that Abbas, who has a copyright on the Third Intifada, is playing with fire and is likely to lose control. Except, not really. There is also one piece of good news: there is small danger of the popular uprising turning into a fully armed uprising.”

The same pessimism is expressed on the other side. Khalid Amayreh, writing on the Hamas-supported Al Qassam website, accuses Israel in an emotionally charged article: “Israel’s no-holds-barred approach to the Palestinian people has convinced most Palestinians that Israel is effectively seeking their physical liquidation as a people. Israel is ruled by an extreme right-wing government which has much in common with Germany’s Third Reich. The fact that numerous Jewish-influenced and Jewish-controlled media in Europe and North America say otherwise, doesn’t alter the basic facts….A Jewish takeover of the Aqsa Mosque would also obliterate the so-called peace process and seriously weaken the Palestinian Authority (PA). Indeed, the PA would be in no position to suppress the overwhelming indignation amongst Palestinians, triggered by an Israeli folly of this magnitude.”

Unfortunately the continued violence in the region has worsened the current climate of fear and recriminations, and predictions and forecasting of more violence could turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. Worse, judging from reaction of some political factions to the Jerusalem car attack, the likelihood of de-escalation is considerably low at the moment: “Several Palestinian political factions on Wednesday praised a car attack in Jerusalem which killed an Israeli border policeman and injured at least 13 other Israelis. Hamas and the DFLP said the attack was a ‘natural response’ to ongoing Israeli crimes against Palestinians in Jerusalem….PRC leader Haitham al-Ashar said that attacks like this were the only way to stop Israel and called on Palestinians in Jerusalem to defend Al-Aqsa.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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