Israel v Palestine: is this the start of the Third Intifada?

'Chickenshit' Netanyahu… Sweden's 'Ikea politics'… Global insults fly as violence erupts in Jerusalem

Columnist Venetia Rainey

Sweden’s landmark decision announced yesterday to recognise the State of Palestine – making it the first EU country to do so – could not have come at a better time.

Not only have peaceful negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians been abandoned for lack of any progress, but the situation in Jerusalem – which both peoples see as their capital – is at breaking point after years of its internationally agreed status being eroded by Israel’s illegal creeping settlement project.

Let’s set the record straight: in the eyes of every single country apart from Israel – and, yes, including the US – Jerusalem belongs to both the Palestinians and the Israelis. Ever since Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, it has been a divided city, central to the contentious issues between the two peoples, to be resolved through peace talks, not unilateral actions.

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So it was with great nerve that Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, told the Security Council during this week’s emergency session on the country’s settlements: “Israel is our home and Jerusalem is our eternal capital.”

By using the word "eternal" he was referencing an increasingly mainstream opinion in Israel: that Judaism's millennia-old presence in the area means the modern State of Israel's claim to the whole of Jerusalem is above law.

No matter the centuries-old presence of hundreds of thousands of Muslims (not to mention Christians) in that part of the world and their right to continue to live on their ancestral land and build a home there: it appears there is no room for other peoples’ histories in current Israeli thinking.

Indeed, it appears there is no room for international law either, given Prosor’s confident conclusion that “the people of Israel are not occupiers and we are not settlers”.

Well, the world begs to differ, Mr Prosor. Even though the Security Council meeting ended with no statement or resolution, Sweden’s decision and a growing crisis in US-Israeli relations – exemplified by the row over an anonymous Obama aide describing Benjamin Netanyahu as “chickenshit” – are telling signs of what lies in store for Israel if it continues unapologetically to violate the same laws it demands its foes respect.

Just like in the rest of the West Bank, the legitimate Palestinian claim to East Jerusalem is dissolving amid Israel’s cancerous settlement policies: 1,000 new homes for settlers announced this Monday, more than 2,000 approved earlier this year, and recently armed night-time takeovers of vacant properties in already tense Arab neighbourhoods.

“There are many threats in the Middle East, but the presence of Jewish homes in the Jewish homeland has never been one of them,” Prosor told the Security Council, referring to not just Israel, but the whole of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Since the end of the Second Intifada in 2005, this statement has been sort-of right. Palestinians sucked up their lot in the hope that at some point in their lifetime they too would be granted the right to self-determination Israel enjoys so aggressively on their doorstep.

But now, with the peace process clearly at a dead end, Palestine's youth are losing their patience, and one of the results has been an eruption of violence in Jerusalem: a Palestinian teenager shot dead during clashes, a Palestinian man running over a mother and baby, a man, believed to be Palestinian, trying to murder a right-wing activist who advocates for greater Jewish access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound… is this the beginning of the Third Intifada?

Just over 14 years ago, the Second Intifada erupted after then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is simultaneously the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest in Judaism. Known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, Jewish groups are once again agitating to be able to pray there despite Israel’s chief rabbis repeatedly ruling that it is prohibited for esoteric religious reasons.

Tensions are at an all-time high, and for the first time in 14 years, Israeli authorities sealed off access to the entire site yesterday. In the wake of the horror of Gaza, would anyone genuinely be surprised if a Third Intifada did break out in the coming months?

The only way to take the sting out of this surge in violence is to give Palestinians concrete hope that they will one day have a state of their own according to the clear parameters laid down in international law.

But why should they have hope when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says things like: "The French build in Paris, the English build in London and the Israelis build in Jerusalem. To come and tell Jews not to live in Jerusalem — why?"

That’s where Sweden’s move comes in.

Predictably, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman denounced Stockholm's decision as "deplorable", adding: "The Swedish government must understand that relations in the Middle East are a lot more complex than the self-assembly furniture of Ikea and that they have to act with responsibility and sensitivity."

Aside from the fact that Lieberman has clearly never tried to assemble anything from Ikea, the Israeli government’s ignorance of the long-term consequences of its settlement project is stunning.

"It is becoming like another Intifada," said one Palestinian man to Reuters of this week’s unrest in East Jerusalem. Let’s hope the international community can do something before he is proven right.

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Venetia Rainey is a Middle East correspondent for based in Lebanon where she works for the national English-language paper, The Daily Star. Follow her on Twitter @venetiarainey.