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Fears of new Palestinian intifada mount

  |   March 27, 2012 at 1:44 PM
RAMALLAH, West Bank, March 27 (UPI) -- A call by imprisoned Palestinian icon Marwan Barghouti for his countrymen to launch a new wave of civil resistance against Israel's occupation has alarmed Israelis who see it as a battle cry for a new uprising.

Barghouti, a senior leader of the mainstream Fatah movement and who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for masterminding terrorist attacks, has wide support across the Palestinian political spectrum.

His jail-cell exhortation to sever economic and security coordination with Israel and launch an economic boycott will resonate among the populations of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip as well as the West Bank, which is controlled by its rival, Fatah.

"The launch of large-scale popular resistance at this stage serves the cause of our people," Barghouti said in a letter smuggled out of his prison to mark the 10th anniversary of his imprisonment and read Monday to his supporters in Ramallah.

"Stop marketing the illusion that there's a possibility of ending the occupation and achieving a state through negotiations after this vision has failed completely," wrote Barghouti, widely seen as a successor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Fears of a new intifada, or uprising, have been growing for some time amid increased Palestinian frustration at what they term as Israel's sabotage of a moribund peace process.

The right-wing coalition government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu adamantly opposes relinquishing the West Bank and its 300,000 Jewish settlers, the territory the Palestinians view as their future independent state.

The failure of successive U.S. administrations to convince the Israelis into even token withdrawals from the West Bank has incensed the Palestinians.

The growing power of the settler movement during Netanyahu's watch and the growing tensions in the West Bank has fueled Palestinian anger. Jewish extremists have torched mosques and burned Palestinian crops.

Palestinian prisoners have started hunger strikes protesting "administrative detention" -- held indefinitely without charge -- and alleging torture and ill-treatment.

If they start dying, trouble is certain to erupt in the West Bank, now divided by Israel's "security barrier," supposedly to keep out suicide bombers but effectively annexing large swathes of Palestinian land.

A March 20 U.N. report says settlers have seized nearly 60 springs in the West Bank and use violence and intimidation to prevent Palestinians getting water there.

"The combination of a complete absence of political prospects for solving the conflict and ending the Israeli occupation, as well as the growing daily difficulties experienced by Palestinians in the occupied territories, has been encouraging many analysts and politicians to warn of a possible resumption of violence or another intifada of some kind," observed Ghassan Khatib, director of the Palestinian Authority's media center.

"This represents a consensus view that the current situation is not sustainable."

However, Khatib and others say that, despite the growing frustrations and swelling anger, most Palestinians "have learned lessons from their past and now believe that a turn to armed conflict and violent confrontation is not in their favor."

But that same past has repeatedly triggered violent eruptions that no-one had foreseen.

The first intifada broke out in Gaza in December 1987 when a Jewish driver ran over four Palestinians. It ended in 1993, with 2,162 Palestinians and 160 Israelis dead. Some 130,000 Palestinians, including women and children, were arrested.

The revolt was led from within the Occupied Territories, not by Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization in exile.

It was the first time Palestinians had acted together as a nation and it shattered Israel's carefully cultured image of Jerusalem, which both sides claim as their capital, as a united city since the Arab sector was conquered in 1967.

The intifada alarmed the Israelis and helped expedite the process that led to the Oslo Accords in 1993.

The second intifada erupted Sept. 28, 2000, when Ariel Sharon, soon to be prime minister, marched into the Haram al-Sharif in East Jerusalem, Islam's third holiest shrine, along with a phalanx of 1,000 bodyguards.

Palestinians, already dismayed at the collapse of the Camp David summit in July 2000 with no peace treaty, went on the rampage. By the time the revolt, infinitely more violent than its predecessor, slackened five years later, 5,500 Palestinians and 1,100 Israelis were dead.

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