The feeling among Israelis and Palestinians over the past few days is that everyone is seeking the responsible adult to make a decision to put out the fire. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a captive of the extreme right and is thinking more about the Likud Central Committee and his position than what is happening at the Al-Aqsa mosque or about an agreement with the Palestinians.
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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas can’t suggest anything to calm things down. On the contrary, in this environment and with events as they have been, especially in Jerusalem, any decision that doesn’t back up the feeling of the masses will only harm him. The man who defined security coordination with Israel as sacrosanct has decided to halt all contact with Israel. Abbas, who went so far cooperating with Israel, is having trouble giving the Palestinians a spark of hope.
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Some people would hang their hopes on Jordan’s King Abdullah II or Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, but meanwhile neither of them has delivered the goods, and neither has U.S. President Donald Trump, about whom the less said, the better.
Lacking leadership, the grass roots have the last word. Local activists and the Muslim religious trust, the Waqf, have found themselves in the limelight as never before and religious figures led the prayers in the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City. Arrests by the police of key Fatah activists in the city have only stoked the anger.
Since the second intifada, Israel has worked to wipe out every sign of Palestinian leadership in Jerusalem and has closed any office that could serve the Palestinian Authority there. Today the PA finds itself speaking with grass-roots activists and religious leaders, and Palestinian factions that supposedly lead public opinion now find themselves trailing it. The “days of rage” declared by Fatah and Hamas and the other factions have not brought the masses into the streets and lack of confidence in the political leadership has only grown. When people do take to the streets, they are led mainly by young people who get organized on social media.
Young activists won't trade dream for economic improvement
The frustration and anger is being led mainly by the generation born after Oslo, the generation that was promised a state and self-determination and now sees only the inability to make the dream come true. In Israel, many people think the carrot and stick are what’s needed. But they forget that a whole generation on the Palestinian side is seeing its hopes shattered. It wants to stand tall and not sell its dreams in exchange for economic improvement.
The frustration and anger at the leadership is trickling down to Arab society in Israel as well. The Joint List is finding it difficult to present a united front in the wake of recent events. This difficulty is reflected in the wording of its condemnation of the attack by three young men from Umm al-Fahm and the visit by the representatives of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee to the homes of the two Druze police officers who were killed, which sparked a dispute that increased the frustration with the leadership.
The internal disputes in the party, due to the unwillingness to respect a rotation agreement that was to have been implemented this week, have worn down the much touted united front. Power and ego struggles are preventing a serious discussion of events. While it is true that most of the Joint List’s lawmakers appear at public events, they are far from dictating an agenda. Arab society cannot forget the trauma of October 2000 (when 12 Israeli Arabs and a Palestinian were killed by police in 10 days of violent demonstrations and Jewish reprisals) on the economic level as well.
Leaders of the political parties and of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee are reading the map correctly and are in no hurry to make decisions that will lead to a clash. But they also understand that in this small country, everything could devolve very quickly, when there is no real leadership and no hope on the horizon.