One month before what may be an historic United Nations showdown over Palestinian statehood, both Palestinian and Israeli authorities are bracing for the possibility of mass street protests that some fear could spiral into a violent uprising.
Palestinian leaders are rallying West Bank residents on Facebook and activists prepare campaigns against Jewish settlements and military checkpoints, while Israel’s Defense Ministry, fearing another intifada, has spent about $22 million on new riot gear and police have canceled September vacations.
The Israeli military is stockpiling tear gas dispensers, rubber bullets, stun grenades and so-called skunk water cannons as well calling up military reservists and making plans for emergency evacuations of settlements and an increased military presence in Palestinian-administered regions of the West Bank.
Palestinian officials have issued assurances they are committed to keeping the demonstrations non-violent, but notable non-violent demonstrations in the very recent past have resulted in violent responses from Israeli security forces. “There will be activities everywhere — against the wall [Israel’s separation barrier], against the settlements and against the occupation,” said Wasel Abu Yousef, who heads the Palestine Liberation Front. “We want to escalate all popular protests.”
“All indications show that we will have only peaceful demonstrations,” said Maj. Gen. Adnan Damiri, a spokesman for the Palestinian security forces. “We are not nervous nor on alert. The Israelis have their reasons and motives. They want to show to the world that by going to the U.N. we are taking this region and the world to war. We do not see it the same way.”
Whether the response on the streets remains peaceful or not may depend on whether the bid for U.N. recognition for Palestinian statehood succeeds. However, the measure may never even come before the full U.N. body because it would likely have to be approved by the Security Council first, where an expected U.S. veto would derail it.