RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - While the prospect of peace between Israel and the Palestinians appears remote, so too does the chance of open conflict -- for now at least.
A repeat of the Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, that erupted in 2000 when U.S. President Bill Clinton’s peace diplomacy failed, is ruled out in the near-term by many Palestinians, including those who fought in the last one.
As a new round of U.S.-sponsored peace talks gets underway, confrontations between Jewish settlers and villagers, or Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops, are likely to stay in the headlines.
But, weak and divided, the Palestinians appear neither willing nor able to wage another sustained, organized uprising against Israeli occupation in the foreseeable future.
Over 500 Israeli civilians died in 140 Palestinian suicide bomb attacks from 2000 to 2007. More than 4,500 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in the same period.
Many Palestinians question what the bloodshed achieved. The most critical say the tactics used in the uprising set back their cause in the court of world public opinion.
The Western-backed Palestinian government in the West Bank -- which would be the main theater in any future Intifada -- is categorically opposed to any repeat.
Their retrained security forces have taken action against those who act or think differently.
That has been reflected in a West Bank security situation which Jewish settlers say has never been better. Half a million of them live in the West Bank and Israeli-occupied land around Jerusalem -- land the Palestinians seek for a state.
Reflecting on the stability, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a recent meeting with journalists that Israeli officers in civilian dress had visited West Bank towns.
In another sign of calm, Israel this month took down protective blast walls put up in 2002 in Gilo, an urban settlement on the outskirts of Jerusalem that came under fire from the West Bank during the Intifada.
Relative, if fragile, stability has even reached the Gaza Strip. Run by the Hamas movement, it remains an “enemy entity” to Israel. But the Iranian-backed Islamists are enforcing a de facto ceasefire that has curbed rocket fire into Israel.
Hamas’s critics argue that the group’s current policy differs little from that of Abbas’s Palestinian Authority: it is seeking to halt attacks that will draw Israeli reprisals.
That’s a comparison Hamas rejects. Part of an alliance including Syria and Hezbollah, Hamas is still committed to fighting Israel but argues that Gaza is in need of calm to recover from a devastating Israeli offensive 20 months ago.
The group has said it will not use force to derail the negotiations set to begin in Washington Thursday -- a tactic it employed in the 1990s when, less powerful, it frequently interrupted U.S.-backed peace talks with suicide attacks.
Hamas activists are regularly detained by West Bank security forces trained with U.S. support. The territory would be the main front in a future Intifada because there are no Israeli settlers or soldiers in Gaza. Israel withdrew them in 2005.
“The Palestinian Authority has taken many steps to destroy the roots of any new Intifada,” said Zakaria al-Qaq, a political analyst. “Not just by targeting the Islamists, but also any party that might think of doing anything.”
Political commentator Samih Shabib added that there is little appetite among Palestinians for another uprising. “There is no popular conviction that an Intifada is the right thing and there is no party in the field to launch it,” he said.
“The Intifada had deep lessons for the Palestinians: that the use of weapons will lead to Israeli incursions, killing, destruction, economic, political, social siege and without any benefit,” he said.
The uprising erupted when Clinton failed to forge a deal between the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak, then Israel’s prime minister. Palestinian leaders at the time declared the Intifada as the route to liberation.
Unlike the first Intifada, which began in 1987 and was defined by confrontations between stone-throwing Palestinian youths and Israeli soldiers, the Palestinians resorted to guns and explosives in the second uprising. Suicide bombers struck inside Israel itself.
Zakaria Zbeida, a prominent figure in the uprising, said another Intifada was inevitable unless the Palestinians could secure an acceptable peace agreement -- something he believes unlikely. But it would need time to break out.
“Maybe in four, five or seven years. But in the near future, no,” said Zbeida, who was spokesman for the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in the West Bank. “Resistance needs a political umbrella. That is not present now,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza)
Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Samia Nakhoul