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Opinion: Israeli-Palestinian conflict escalates in shadow of Arab revolts

Tensions are escalating between Israelis and Palestinians after a renewed upsurge of violence in the region. Deutsche Welle's Bettina Marx says continuing Arab uprisings have played an indirect role in the conflict.

English opinion

Violence between Israelis and Palestinians has exploded once again with Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom warning that his country could be forced to begin a new comprehensive military operation against the Gaza Strip to topple Hamas.

The renewed escalation is at least indirectly linked to the surge of violence and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa. The demands for freedom, political participation and jobs are heard in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank too.

Bettina Marx

Deutsche Welle's Bettina Marx

The occupied Palestinian territories are simmering with discontent. Last week, demonstrations by young people in Gaza and Ramallah went largely unnoticed by the international media. A few demonstrators even embarked on a hunger strike to press their demands.

The Islamist Hamas party as well as the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah ordered a violent crackdown on the protesters. At least one person was killed in Gaza.

At the same time, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has tried to extend an olive branch to Hamas. He said he was ready to visit the Gaza Strip and meet Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh who he deposed of as prime minister of a short-lived unity government in 2007. Abbas said an interim government could be formed together which could then prepare for new elections in the Palestinian territories within six months.

That has set alarm bells ringing in Jerusalem. Palestinians burying their differences and building a united front is the last thing the Israeli government would like to see. The fear in Jerusalem is that they could raise demands together, lead the campaign to set up a Palestinian state, win international legitimacy and thus represent their interests in a much more forceful manner.

The only way to prevent that could be to retrigger a spiral of violence, a strategy for which Israel would find willing collaborators among the extremists of Islamic Jihad and the armed wing of Hamas.

While the world focuses on events in Libya, Yemen and Syria, the tensions in Israel and the Palestinian territories are escalating.

There are fears that Israel will seize the opportunity to try and crush attempts by the Palestinians to achieve unity. That's because the right-wing Israeli government is under massive pressure. As the Arab world is rocked by revolution and people stand up and demand their rights, Palestinians too won't stay quiet for ever and resignedly watch Jewish settlers taking over their land and their hopes for their own nation diminishing.

The upheaval in the Arab world has also raised the pressure on the West. Politicians in Europe and the US can no longer support rebels in Libya and democratic movements in Arab nations and continue to be silent on the Palestinian situation.

Politicians in Jerusalem are already calling for a second "Operation Cast Lead," a repeat of the bloody Gaza offensive two years ago. If things do come to that, it would be time to withdraw support for Israel and set up a no-fly zone over the Gaza Strip too.

Author: Bettina Marx (sp)
Editor: Rob Mudge

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