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Are we seeing signs of a third intifada? – Part 2

October 30, 2014 at 6:40 PM EDT
As Israeli-Palestinian tensions bubble up over access to the holy site known as the Temple Mount, is the Middle East political conflict at risk of becoming a full-on religious conflict? Judy Woodruff gets background on the conflict from Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force in Palestine and David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on these tensions and what’s behind them, I’m joined by Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine, and David Makovsky from the Washington Institute. He was part of Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiating team in the most recent talks.

Welcome back to the program to both of you.

DAVID MAKOVSKY, The Washington Institute For Near East Policy: You bet.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Makovsky, first, how significant are these tensions we’re watching?

DAVID MAKOVSKY: Look, you know, this is a conflict, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that doesn’t lack for emotion and passion.

And Jerusalem, on top of it, has even more doses than anything else. So we have seen episodes where things have flared and then things have kind of quieted down. So it’s hard to know for sure. But I think we need to make sure that cool heads prevail here, because we don’t want this conflict that’s a political conflict, Israeli-Palestinian, to be transformed into a Muslim-Jewish religious war, because political conflicts, you can solve. But religious wars, you can’t.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How concerned are you? How big a deal…

HUSSEIN IBISH, The American Task Force on Palestine: I think it’s very dangerous.

I think we’re closer to seeing a — the process of the development of another intifada than we have been since 2005, since 10 years ago, when the second intifada petered out. I don’t think it’s upon us, and I don’t think it’s likely to be produced in the next few days, but you can see all the elements coming together here, particularly as it’s clustered around East Jerusalem with the question about the settlements, the question about the future of the city and especially the holy places.

And here you have that exact nexus of issues and the place where that kind of explosion or implosion could actually come about, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you mentioned the settlements.

David Makovsky, these new settlements, new construction, whatever you call it, how much of a sticking point, how much of an irritant is that in all this?

DAVID MAKOVSKY: Well, I agree with Hussein.

I mean, when you have a vacuum, when there’s no negotiations, we were led by Secretary Kerry’s initiative. People thought, OK, there is an effort to try to solve this, but when there’s no effort, when there’s a vacuum, all sort of things bubble up, and that’s — I add, I think that exacerbates the concerns. The issue…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean the fact that the talks collapsed?


DAVID MAKOVSKY: Right. They collapsed last spring and so…



So, look, the — these neighborhoods in Jerusalem, I mean, I don’t want to bore people with all the technicalities, but there’s six phases of planning. So this is recycled news from 2010. And there’s going to be another four more of these announcements probably over the next few years over the same few apartment buildings.

The problem is this. Netanyahu will say that, in these particular neighborhoods are areas that even Palestinian maps, not all of them, by the way, but some of them will be Israel anyway. But when you don’t say the corollary of, well, I won’t build in the other areas that will be Palestine, people assume the worst. If you don’t draw the distinction, they won’t draw the distinction.

So I think there’s a need to do both sides of this. If you’re going to build in there saying that’s going to be Israel anyway in a two-state peace map, then you have got to say where you’re not going to build.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is it just a matter of how it’s talked about?

HUSSEIN IBISH: I don’t think so.

I certainly agree that these settlements have not been built, and they may not be, and there is a multistage planning process, so that you get — you pay the cost politically many times over each time it’s announced. But Givat Hamatos is not in any consensus area. And it does really…


JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the name of the…

HUSSEIN IBISH: It’s the name one of the new settlements that has been announced. And that’s the one that’s probably the biggest single irritant between the United States and Israel and between the international community and Israel.

But all of these send a message to the Palestinians and the other Arabs that Israel intends to keep hold of Jerusalem, that Israel doesn’t want to compromise on Jerusalem, because, if you really did want a two-state solution, why keep digging the hole deeper? Why keep expanding the number of settlers and the areas that are settled, especially in strategic areas that cut off Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank? That’s a question I have never had a good answer to.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there a calming influence out there that could make a difference in getting things to cool down, David Makovsky?

DAVID MAKOVSKY: It’s a great question.

I think what’s key is, you know, Netanyahu said “status quo.” He’s really, I think, coming out against the people who want to go on the Temple Mount. And really it’s the security chiefs who say, hey, this is a powder keg, people. And each one has good arguments, will say, you know, that this is the holiest site is the two — Solomon’s Temple, Herod’s Temple.

And it’s on — and the ruins of a mosque — of the temples is where the mosque is. History has cut for calm, because when the area became — was taken by Israel in 1967, Moshe Dayan, who was the winning general, said, you know what Jordanian religious authorities called the Wakf, you administered this before the war, you administer it now. Israel’s not doing it.

And the rabbinate said don’t go up to there, not because it’s not holy, because it’s too holy. Wait for the messiah. But what happened is, this new insurgent group says, oh, we have — now can historically delineate through archaeology where it is. And that’s upsetting the status quo.

The message of the security services, keep the status quo. Make sure this powder keg doesn’t go off.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see this?


HUSSEIN IBISH: Well, I think that there are important calming elements here that could be — certainly, the United States and the rest of the international community can help, but with incentives and disincentives to the parties to calm things down.

I think we can play certainly a significant role in encouraging the parties to do that. In addition, I think the public sentiment can be…


JUDY WOODRUFF: Even — even with the peace — even with the talks stopped?


HUSSEIN IBISH: Yes, even with the talks, because — yes, because there are still bilateral relations.

And, certainly, we did have this interesting take by Jeffrey Goldberg this week about how there’s a deterioration. He described white-hot White House anger against Israel and Netanyahu’s contempt, as he put it, for the administration.

But that doesn’t matter, because there are still bilateral relations, also bilateral relations with the Palestinians which could be utilized to calm things down. I think also the public can be — especially if it’s given reasons to hope and reasons to choose to calm down, can be helpful on both sides.

And, particularly, the Palestinian public has shown a reticence to get sucked into another intifada. In this summer, during the Gaza war, there was a major incident at Kalandia refugee camp — sorry — checkpoint near Kalandia refugee camp, on a very holy night during Ramadan.

And the public ultimately backed off and didn’t go for it. So, if the public in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Palestinian public, can be given reasons to hope for something better tomorrow, I don’t think they’re going to be interested in going down this road. This would be pure last-ditch desperation and anger.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hussein Ibish, David Makovsky, we thank you.

HUSSEIN IBISH: Thank you so much.

DAVID MAKOVSKY: Thank you very much.