JERUSALEM (Jul. 13)
In the absence of talks, violence has taken over the Palestinian street.
The violence, which escalated again over the weekend, raises questions of how – - and even whether — the two sides will be able to get past the rock throwing and rubber bullets and back to the table.
It’s been four months since any substantive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have taken place, and both sides are angry.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the ongoing tensions on the Palestinian Authority and warned that the Palestinian leadership would pay a heavy price if the violence continued to escalate.
Netanyahu, speaking during Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting, blamed the crisis on the Palestinian realization that the current Israeli government was not going to follow in the footsteps of the previous Labor government.
“Until a year ago, the Palestinians enjoyed the best of all worlds. There was violence, and the previous government continued to give them assets,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying.
“The current government stopped this policy,” he said, adding: “We are ready to reach an agreement, but not at any price.”
The premier’s remarks came amid a weekend of unabated violence.
In the West Bank town of Hebron, site of repeated clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian stone-throwers during the past several weeks, at least 19 Palestinians were wounded over the weekend.
There have been nearly daily disturbances in Hebron since fliers depicting the prophet Mohammed as a pig appeared in the town.
A Jerusalem woman has been detained on suspicion of distributing the fliers.
On Saturday and Sunday, demonstrators threw bombs and rocks at the Israeli troops, who responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.
Palestinian sources said the injured included Palestinian journalists covering the protests.
In an effort to quell the unrest, Israeli troops sealed off alleys between the Israeli- and Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank town.
Saturday’s clashes reportedly broke out after a group of Jewish settlers, returning from Sabbath prayers, threw stones at Palestinian youths.
Disturbances were also reported Sunday at Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem, where Palestinian rioters threw rocks and bottles at Israeli troops.
And in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Palestinians protesting Israel’s settlement policy burned an Israeli flag Saturday in the presence of Ahmed Karia, the speaker of the Palestinian legislative council and a top Palestinian negotiator.
His presence at the flag-burning prompted an angry response from Israeli officials, who demanded that the Palestinian leadership condemn the incident.
The criticism was primarily directed at Karia, also known as Abu Alaa, for attending the rally.
Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh told Israel Radio that if the peace talks with the Palestinians were to continue, the Palestinian Authority would have to distance itself from such acts.
“Abu Alaa marched at the head of a procession of demonstrators opposite whom an Israeli flag was burned. He didn’t try to protest, he didn’t try to stop it,” Naveh said.
Alaa dismissed the criticisms and denied reports that he had stepped on the burnt remnants of the flag.
“The burning of the flag during the demonstration was not planned,” he said. “It came as a surprise to me.”
Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been stalled since mid-March, when Israel began construction of Har Homa, a Jewish neighborhood in southeastern Jerusalem.
Palestinian Authority official Nabil Sha’ath met last week with Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai in an effort to restart the talks, and the two may meet again soon.
Officials from the two sides have also held discussions regarding the opening of a Palestinian airport in the Gaza Strip and for creating a safe passage route for Palestinians traveling between the West Bank and Gaza.