Who's in Favor of a Palestinian Intifada?

How do you know if someone is a leftist? You ask whether he thinks an intifada is imminent.

How can you find out if someone is a leftist? You ask him whether he thinks an intifada will take place. If he responds, "Yes, no doubt. Pretty soon," we have a dangerous leftist. If he responds, "That's silly, a few riots and a Qassam rocket are not an intifada," we have a proud Jew who believes that the Arabs have already learned their lesson. This is one of the new characteristics of the left-right clash, but not of the real danger that lurks behind the Temple Mount's thick walls, or beyond the fence surrounding the Gaza Strip.

The dice games between the left and right in Israel, where the result on the Palestinian side needs to be guessed, usually take place when inactivity on the political front leaves people bored. It's as if it's someone else's game; we're just managing the bets. There is also the game between Israel and the United States. Obama is with us or against us? With us? The right-wing fans stand up and cheer. Against us? The left applauds.

Here is another way of distinguishing between the left and right: In the morning a Qassam rocket falls and kills someone. Someone? Just a foreign worker, the kind that can be replaced. The "terrorism map" is immediately pulled out. If the rocket belonged to Hamas, alas, Operation Cast Lead failed. A point in favor of the left. If a different group fired the rocket, possibly a global jihad organization - something that falls not to us but to the "international community," which handles Islamic extremism - we lose interest. In other words, Cast Lead is still effective. A point for the right.

This is the nature of the risk during a political vacuum. On the face of it, nothing terrible is happening. Since Cast Lead - another historic watershed - only 300 Qassam rockets and mortar shells have been fired, and "only" one person has been killed. In Jerusalem "only" several dozen police officers and Palestinians have been injured in clashes on the Temple Mount. There are often more injuries at a soccer game that turns violent. The demonstrations at Sheikh Jarrah? At Na'alin and Bil'in? Nothing to write home about. "Just another" issue for legal deliberations over the right to demonstrate and the right to property.

But a vacuum is an explosive situation. For example, the authority of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is already being challenged. He has made too many errors recently and has too few achievements. The dispute between Israel and the United States is a great achievement, but it has yet to bear fruit. There has been no real construction freeze and no transfer of territory to the PA.

True, the Palestinian security forces control the streets, and there is order and obedience, but there is no hope. The PA doesn't quite know how to leverage the dispute with Israel. Should it declare an independent state? Should it hand over the conflict to the UN in an effort to increase international pressure on Israel? Like Israel, the Palestinians are doing their real negotiating with the United States. In the meantime, there are different sounds from the ground - some people believe there is no way to avoid another violent outburst, which will extricate the PA from its status as a soft player that is implementing Israel's vision of Palestinian autonomy.

Unlike the West Bank, Gaza is armed with Qassam rockets and long-range missiles, but the Hamas threat is not just directed at the communities of the northern Negev. Hamas' ability to get supporters in Jerusalem and the West Bank onto the streets is something new. It's not measured merely by the number of stone-throwers on the Temple Mount, but also by the alternative of an uprising that the Islamist group is trying to encourage. The holy sites are its living space, and when a non-religious Egyptian newspaper writes in its main headline that "The Al-Aqsa Mosque is on the verge of collapse" because of the Israeli construction work, and the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia are furious because of Israel's activities in Jerusalem, Hamas doesn't need Qassams. The smoldering can be seen and heard.

Will there or won't there be an intifada is a sly question. It assumes that even if an intifada does take place, we already know how to handle it, and if it does not happen, well, we've won anyway. Meanwhile, the main question now in the dispute between the left and right, as if it were really an ideological issue, hides behind it: the true struggle for the future of the state and its international standing.