Opinion

Palestinian Rage Over Trump’s Jerusalem Move Won’t Turn Into a Third Intifada

Despite Palestinian despair as deep as before the first intifada, there won't be a popular uprising or widespread officially-sanctioned violence. It's not in the interests of the PA or Hamas - and they've bought the obedience of the activists who would have led the charge

Palestinian demonstrators burn representations of Israeli and American flags during a protest against the possible U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, in Gaza City, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP

President Donald Trump's speech Wednesday, giving America's blessing to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, is widely touted as the spark that will provoke armed retaliation or a mass popular uprising amongst Palestinians.

The truth is that likelihood is at an all-time low. 

With a growing sense of abandonment by the international community and Arab regimes, Palestinians are fuming, seeing their cause fade away and their suffering belittled.

But despite the fact that the same depth of despair in earlier times fueled a historic mass uprising in 1987, the first Intifada, who sought international attention for their cause, and despite the fact that in many ways the Palestinians' situation is more dire today - a grassroots or top-down explosion is not on the cards.

Palestinians' attempt to rage against the dying of the light has been comprehensively incapacitated over the past 30 years both by Israel's counterinsurgency measures, and by the Palestinian leadership(s) itself.

Topping the list of paralyzing circumstances is the ongoing effect of Israeli Prime MInister Yitzhak Rabin’s tactic of separation, "us here and them there," disguised as a peace agreement, which largely undermined the Palestinian masses’ ability to impact or put pressure on Israel directly.

Jabalia, the refugee camp which was ground zero for the first Intifada, is isolated with the rest of the Gaza Strip behind a giant concrete wall and a blockade. Gazans' suffering can't be heard on the Israeli side. Its masses are still repressed by Hamas' efficient security forces. Any desire for an uprising is currently muffled by official and popular pressure to continue the Palestinian reconciliation process undisturbed.

Another decisive difference is that the Palestinian masses are now trapped by a parasitical and charlatan leadership.

A a souvenir shop displays T-shirts bearing an image of U.S. President Donald Trump dressed as a Hasidic Jew and ‘Free Palestine’, in Jerusalem's Old City. December 4, 2017.
AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP

Before the first Intifada, Palestinians didn't ask for permission from their leaders in exile, who were brewing a backdoor peace accord with Israel in Oslo. Palestinians also acted against the will of Arab regimes who were keen to disarm and contain Palestinian rebels in earlier times. At that time, Palestinians in the streets were directed by their conscience rather than leaders crippled by conflicts of interest. Those popular, energetic efforts ended when the PLO leadership in exile bought the masses’ loyalty, and passivity.

Today's equivalent grassroots activists have been absorbed into the NGO sector, or contained by the Palestinian Authority, and they are bound to obedience in order to maintain their sources of personal income and organizational funding. That obedience is now embedded and institutionalized - either among Palestinian Authority (who wouldn’t dare to walk away from their salaries), or Hamas' followers (and their fealty to its hierarchy, grounded in the Muslim Brotherhood principle of "hearing and obeying.")

The prospect of endangering the leverage held by Ramallah’s elite restrains them any critical position that defies the status quo, and thus their minions have to walk within the predesignated lines: denunciation, diplomatic battles, and at the farthest edge - permitting mass rallies and condoning individual attacks on Israelis.

As for Hamas, the sense of urgency to survive new geopolitical realities has changed its calculations dramatically, such that it has become indistinguishable from the collaborationist elite in Ramallah, save their demagogic sloganizing that they have no intention to act on.

If Trump's announcement had been made in the early 2000s, Hamas would have responded with bomb attacks in Tel Aviv as it did during the second initifada in proximate response to PM Ariel Sharon's Temple Mount visit. More recently, after Hamas became a political force, Trump's move would have, at least, compelled the movement to launch primitive projectiles on Israel and organize staged performances with provocative placards and invited the media.

Nowadays, Hamas' reaction is confined to writing statements of denunciation on Facebook, holding press conferences or launching experimental projectiles towards the sea to show that the "armed resistance" is still here, but frozen in indefinite preparations for a confrontation with "the enemy" that in fact it’s keen to avoid.

Palestinian protesters prepare to burn a picture of US President Donald Trump in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on December 6, 2017.
SAID KHATIB/AFP

The rhetorical solace Hamas activists have found in response to Trump consists of generalized slogans that don't require any specific or immediate response: "Whether in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, the U.S. embassy sits on occupied territory that we will liberate - one day."

The Palestinian Authority leadership recognizes that the continued bias of the Trump Administration towards Israel is inherently destabilizing. Their defensive efforts are largely confined to finding a way to outlive the Trump era with the least damage possible, hoping the next U.S. president will abrogate Trump’s actions.

A significant proportion of Palestinian society, outside these leadership bubbles, have no grounds to challenge the unspoken official line that resistance now is unwelcome, if they want to put food on their tables.

The only possible non-violent or direct action will come from those Palestinians most victimized by the status quo: the unemployed and unemployable, young, hungry, futureless Palestinians, whose own slow death is passing unnoticed.

Their actions, however, are unlikely to be concentrated en masse without organizational structures or support from Palestinian decision-makers. In particular for the blockaded people of Gaza, the very faint light emanating from the Palestinian reconciliation process is not one they want to jeopardize with retaliatory measures to a move whose import is so purely symbolic. Their rage over this move by Trump will dissipate, and it won't take that long.

Muhammad Shehada is a writer and civil society activist from the Gaza Strip and a student of Development Studies at Lund University, Sweden. He was formerly the PR officer for the Gaza office of the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights. Twitter: @muhammadshehad2