Mideast experts warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week that construction policies in the settlements or the burning of a major mosque by extremists could help trigger a violent uprising in the West Bank.
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The meeting with Netanyahu, which lasted about 90 minutes, took place Tuesday evening.
The burning of a major mosque by Jewish extremists was the greatest risk, the experts said. Violence could also be sparked, they said, if Netanyahu's plan goes through to build 850 new housing units in the West Bank, especially if the diplomatic stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians continues.
The implementation of construction plans without diplomatic progress could undermine the Palestinian people's support of President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the experts said. It could also weaken the Palestinian security forces that are keeping a lid on violence.
The experts included professors Shimon Shamir, Emmanuel Sivan, Meir Litvak, Eyal Zisser and Anat Lapidot. Also present was Brig. Gen. (res. ) Shalom Harari - a former Arab affairs adviser to IDF Central Command, the Defense Ministry and the Israeli delegation to the Madrid and Oslo peace talks.
Also in the group were advisers on Palestinian affairs and experts on Egypt, Jordan, North Africa, Turkey and Iran, although Iran's nuclear program was not discussed. The session was coordinated by the National Security Council, which sent officials to the meeting.
The experts presented statistics showing that the outbreak of the first intifada in December 1987 and the second intifada in September 2000 were both preceded by mass violence and violence by individuals, usually using improvised weapons. Netanyahu was told that such a trend is apparent now as well.
The session took place while the political scene was in turmoil over the planned evacuation of the Ulpana neighborhood in the West Bank settlement of Beit El.
Netanyahu reportedly did not respond when the experts warned him that the construction of the 850 apartments he pledged as compensation for the evacuation of Ulpana could spark violence. He grew tense when told that the burning of a major mosque could trigger a new Palestinian uprising, sources said.
In a broad allusion to the 1996 riots sparked by the opening of the exit to the Western Wall Tunnel near the Temple Mount, one expert told Netanyahu that the burning of a mosque could become "the rock of our existence." Netanyahu used this phrase in 1996 to describe the tunnel's importance.
Netanyahu shared little of his own positions and intentions, but when aspects of Islam, among them Islamic law, were mentioned, he mentioned Jewish law in response. "The greatest problem of Judaism is that its law has not developed for the past 1,000 years," he said.
The dangers of a diplomatic stalemate are expected to be expressed Tuesday in Washington in a discussion at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. President Shimon Peres and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be on hand.
On Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced President Barack Obama's appointment of Adm. Paul Bushong as the new U.S. security coordinator between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Bushong, currently a commander in Guam, as well as the head of the Pentagon mission to Micronesia, will be responsible for building up the Palestinian security forces. He will replace air force Lt. Gen. Michael Moeller, who served in the post for less than two years.