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From its early beginnings, the second Palestinian Intifada created a great deal of uncertainty amongst analysts and players. This uncertainty reflected the complexity of the process – as well as the diversity of its causes and the agendas behind it. This complexity was also reflected in the “dualisms” of the nature of the process: it was both peaceful and armed; local and regional; popular and authoritative, organized and spontaneous; religious and national (or secular) all at the same time.
Analysts noted the clear structural and circumstantial differences between this uprising and the epochal uprising of 1987 to 1993 that defined the term “Intifada” for Palestinians. The main difference naturally, was the existence of the Palestinian Authority, and the redeployment of the Israeli army from Palestinian cities and most densely populated areas. These factors excluded certain social groups from confrontations with the Israeli army. They also resulted in the creation of a “war front” image and a rise in the degree of violence among Palestinian civilians. There was also a reduction in the age and social group representation at the clash points defined by the post-Oslo (A, B, and C) political zoning of the Palestinian territories.
Key Palestinian officials did not agree in their evaluation of the second Intifada, at least from the perspective of its impact on the peace process. While Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was obviously interested in some reshuffling of the peace process cards after talks at Camp David II, other key Palestinian officials were in favor of “over-exhausting” the Oslo procedures, which consisted of long stalemates supported by Palestinian patience, and brief breakthroughs supported by international pressure as relative to changes within Israeli society and government.
The wider world
The response of the Arab and community reflected an underestimation of the strength and duration of the second Intifada, and its implications. The failure of the Sharm Al Sheikh summit at the start of the Intifada, and the numerous low profile attempts that followed to cool the new Palestinian- Israeli confrontations demonstrated an underestimation of the long-term implications of the situation.
The second Intifada posed a threat to regional stability – both to the internal stability of countries in the region, as well through increased possibilities of a regional war. The situation in the Palestinian territories is considered to be a factor among the possible incentives for the recent terrorist attacks in the United States. If this proves to be true, then one can conclude that the American-supported Israeli repression of the second Intifada helped to initiate a “reformed new world order.”
Popular and partisan participation in Palestine reflected the existence of several agendas behind this uprising. The various names of this Intifada – “The Second,” “Al-Aqsa,” “Al Quds,” “The Independence” and “The Liberation” – reflected various agendas and hopes. No fewer were the variations in discourse referring to the Intifada and the diversity and fluctuation of opinion regarding its events.
The falling of assumptions
Throughout, this Intifada has left us with a wide range of uncertainties. These resemble not only the complexity of the situation on the ground, and the variety of interests and perceptions involved in the Palestinian problem, but also a great feeling of disappointment in most of the assumptions on which the peace process was built.
Among these assumptions, one can list Israel’s potential principal acceptance in the region by Arab nations (i.e., that with peace, Israel would be accepted). This acceptance is directly related to the understanding of the type of struggle and the roles of its different players. In other words, if the struggle is existential and, therefore the role of Islamic movements on the Palestinian side, and the religious right wing in coalition with the settlers on the Israeli side are both growing, then the question is not one of a political settlement, but one of the principles of its settlement. In short, the question is about the possibility of coexistence between two nations.
In Israel, for example, the trend towards seeing the war situation with Palestinians as an inevitable “fate” grew significantly, particularly among inhabitants of settlements like Gilo, and population groups such as the Israelis of Russian origin.
One of the main failures of the peace process uncovered by the second Intifada was the growth of hatred between the people of the two nations. The Israeli leadership had not sold the peace process to Israelis for what it was worth, but rather insisted on selling it for Israel’s initial design: to get rid of the Palestinian problem, rather than build peace and enable a nation to practice its right to self determination.
Hence, Israeli society and its political map underwent significant reformation as a result of the second Intifada and the failure of Camp David. The lesson that can be deduced here is that good packaging does not sell political solutions or national satisfaction. The “unexpected” solidarity with the Intifada from Arabs in Israel reflected this feeling of deception.
On the Palestinian front, the second Intifada gained its title regardless of structure or content, and as a natural and expected process. It was about time for the Palestinian waiting period to end. The promises that the peace process would eventually bear fruit lost credibility in the general Palestinian mind when the international community blamed Arafat for the failure of the Camp David negotiations.
If one adds to this disappointment the Intifada’s small successes (even if they were local and temporary) in evacuating Israeli settlements, and the success of the Lebanese struggle against the Israeli occupation, it becomes clear that new, more revolutionary and militant forms of struggle against occupation are likely to happen, regardless of their destructive power. The sense that Israelis do not perceive the settlers as an integral part of Israeli society helped increase the belief that evacuating the settlements is a legitimate and realizable demand.
The United States’ failure to contain the Israeli brutality revived the notion of internationalizing the Palestinian problem. This came in tandem with a growing demand for physical international intervention, and one could not help but notice that many pre-Oslo ideas were brought back to operation from hibernation. Among those were: armed struggle, national unity, the frameworks of the Palestine Liberation Organization and social solidarity. This revival reflected the war-like situation on the ground and the need to re- legitimize the Palestinian leadership after the decomposition of the Oslo process.
The rebirth of pre-Oslo concepts and modes of action and decision-making like the PLO framework led to the marginalization of several institutions and programs that were meant to support the Oslo process. Among those was the Palestinian Legislative Council. Others marginalized were internationally-funded projects aiming at building peace and statehood in Palestine.
In conclusion, it is worth noting that the second Intifada reopened most of the questions that the Oslo process did not manage to tackle. The majority of these questions concentrate around the process of decolonization, questions that the Oslo process intended to bypass. In many ways the Intifada has been a destructive force – including destroying many illusions.