Spiraling Clashes on Nakba Day Could Set West Bank Alight

Palestinian security forces aim to contain the demonstrations within the Palestinian cities, rather than allowing them to create any friction with the IDF.

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A Palestinian teenager was shot dead and 20 more people were wounded during riots in East Jerusalem over the weekend, in demonstrations ahead of today's Nakba Day protests.

Milad Said Ayyash, 17, was allegedly shot by a security guard employed at the settlement of Beit Yonatan, in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. Nakba Day - in which Palestinians commemorate the "catastrophe" of the loss of their land to Israel - will be marked today with mass demonstrations throughout the West Bank and Gaza, with the main rally set to take place in Ramallah.

The funeral procession in East Jerusalem on May 14, 2011 for Milad Said Ayyash, the Palestinian teen killed the previous day.Credit: Emil Salman

The day will open with the laying of wreaths on the tomb of Yasser Arafat, followed by a procession of refugee families to the city center. The Palestinian security forces will aim to contain the demonstrations within the Palestinian cities, rather than allow them to create any friction with the IDF.

However, some clashes are still expected, especially in and around East Jerusalem. Problems are feared at, among others, the Anata refugee camp near Shoafat; Silwan; the Kalandia refugee camp; and the village of Isawiyah.

Ayyash's funeral passed without incident and failed to ignite any widespread unrest in the West Bank. The IDF will be congratulating itself on the quiet, even if it may prove temporary: In September 2000, seven deaths in clashes with police on Temple Mount triggered the start of the second intifada. This weekend, the location of the clashes played a significant role: The Al-Aqsa mosque and Silwan are far from the same thing.

Nevertheless, the IDF deployed seven extra battalions across the West Bank in preparation for a potential outburst of protests. The commanders of Palestinian security forces sought to calm their Israeli colleagues, trying to persuade them that the additional deployment was unnecessary.

However, despite the preparations it is difficult to anticipate all potential developments in the West Bank, especially with solidarity protests scheduled to take place on the Jordanian side of the Allenby land crossing and on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing.

In Jerusalem, youths are likely to once more challenge the police, and any one of these could become a spark that will set the West Bank alight.

There are other potential sparks, of course: The complete deadlock in Israel-Palestine negotiations, not helped by the resignation on Friday of the U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, George Mitchell. Plus there's the approaching Palestinian national unity government, and the UN general assembly vote on recognizing the Palestinian state in September.

If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speeches in Washington next week fail to provide some form of diplomatic opening, all these developments may turn today's Nakba events into a "warm up" for a wider and more violent clash between Israel and the Palestinians four months from now.

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