Palestinian protests against U.S. President Donald Trump’s so-called deal of the century began Tuesday at several locations in the West Bank and continued Wednesday – but the demonstrators were careful not to let things get out of hand. The marches and rallies so far have been measured; attendance was pretty sparse and there were no serious clashes.
Nevertheless, calls are increasing to exploit the release of the plan to advance intra-Palestinian reconciliation and a civil revolt against Israel.
In the Al-Aroub refugee camp north of Hebron, dozens of young demonstrators confronted Israeli soldiers, who fired tear gas. There were also clashes in the Tubas area north of Nablus. The Palestinian Authority reported three people injured by live fire in El-Bireh, near Ramallah; all were reported in stable condition. Palestinian authorities reported 41 people hurt in the clashes, most of them from tear-gas inhalation.
In Bethlehem labor unions observed the call by Palestinian factions and stopped work at 11:30 A.M., when residents held a protest march.
Demonstrations were expected to continue at checkpoints, but the atmosphere did not point to serious escalation. Palestinian security forces have been accompanying the demonstrators as they approach the checkpoints.
There have been calls to expand the protests, with demands that it be planned and organized by the PA and the political factions, rather than continue as spontaneous eruptions by young people in the cities and refugee camps.
Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, told Haaretz that PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ address Tuesday in response to Trump’s plan didn’t meet his people’s expectations.
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“The Deal of the Century is an obscene and dangerous deal that threatens to eradicate the Palestinians’ national ambitions, but what is more dangerous is the continued division among the Palestinians,” Fares said. “We must take advantage of this event and the demonstration of unity against the deal, which found expression yesterday in Ramallah and Gaza, to advance reconciliation.” He added that the division had helped Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu advance the plan and present it without worrying about the Palestinian or pan-Arab reaction.
Fares and many other Palestinian activists are pressing Abbas and the Palestinian factions to implement a long-discussed strategy: Declaring a civil revolt in the West Bank against the occupation.
“I hear Israelis asking if there’s going to be an intifada or not,” said Fares. “We don’t want an intifada, not the ’87 model and not the 2000 model; we want a civil revolt. To block a road not with stones, but by sitting on the roads leading up to the settlements and causing traffic jams. That’s a revolt. To damage infrastructure is a revolt; to remove all Israeli products from the Palestinian market – that’s a revolt. We don’t want a drop of blood spilled on either side.” He added that there’s no point in some partial protest “like a day of rage that doesn’t lead to anything.”
Such a revolt requires a thought-out strategy from the Palestinian leadership, Fares said, “because such steps have a price on the civilian and economic levels.”
It isn’t clear to what degree the wider public would be willing to broaden the protest for a lengthy period. Many in the political arena argue that this is another reason for reconciliation, since it could provide a tailwind to a popular protest.
The chairman of the National Initiative Party, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, called on the PA to disengage from Israel and stop the security cooperation. Barghouti told Haaretz that the Trump plan is a “nasty project to eradicate Palestinian rights and establish apartheid mechanisms.” He added that if there is one ray of light in the plan’s presentation, it’s the united Palestinian opposition to it – and in response the heads of the political factions should intensify the protest.
About the Israeli response to the plan, Barghouti said, “The feeling is that there’s a consensus about the plan, and that everyone is falling in behind a plan that’s the product of a connection between Trump and the extreme right in the United States and Israel. Israelis feel like they profit from the occupation, but they’re very much mistaken. They have to know that the Palestinians aren’t going anywhere. In the end apartheid won’t last, and we will demand full equal rights between the sea and the Jordan [River] – not an exchange of populations or anything like that.”