Q and A: where will Palestinian unrest lead?

A Palestinian protester flashes the sign for victory during clashes with Israeli security forces near the Nahal Oz border crossing with Israel, east of Gaza City on October 10, 2015 (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
A Palestinian protester flashes the sign for victory during clashes with Israeli security forces near the Nahal Oz border crossing with Israel, east of Gaza City on October 10, 2015 (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - An escalating cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians has raised fears of a wider uprising, or intifada. Here is a series of questions and answers describing the situation:

What has caused it?

Palestinian youths have grown frustrated with Israel's occupation of the West Bank and the complete breakdown of peace efforts. The Palestinian economy has also suffered, not only in Gaza which is under Israeli blockade but also in the West Bank, which has struggled with a lack of private investment in addition to the effects of the occupation. Corruption allegations against Palestinian officials have added to the anger.

"The current clashes are being led by a young generation with no collective memory of the second intifada," including the deaths and destruction of Palestinian infrastructure that accompanied it, said Ido Zelkovitz, an expert on Palestinian history at Haifa University.

Fifteen years later, youths believe their leaders "have no alternative to propose, that the international and regional context has led to waning interest in the Palestinian cause and that Israel has chosen the far-right and settlements" over genuine peace efforts, said Palestinian political scientist Ali Jarbawi.

Amid that climate, the sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound has served as a rallying cry and a symbol of statehood for Palestinians. Clashes have broken out at the site that both Jews and Muslims consider sacred, and Israel has accused Palestinian leaders of inciting violence there.

How has the unrest played out?

A Jewish settler couple were murdered on October 1 in the West Bank in a shooting Israel blamed on a Hamas cell. Two days later, a Palestinian stabbed two Israelis to death in Jerusalem's Old City.

A wave of stabbings has since occurred in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Israel itself. Rioting has also erupted throughout the West Bank and in annexed east Jerusalem.

The unrest has since spread to the Gaza Strip, where seven Palestinians were killed on Friday in clashes with Israeli security forces along the border. Two more Palestinians were killed in Gaza on Saturday in further clashes.

Since October 1, four Israelis and 20 Palestinians have been killed, including at least seven suspected attackers.

Who is involved?

Among the Palestinians, rioters and attackers have generally been aged between 15 and 30. Some have belonged to political movements, but the unrest so far seems to have been mainly unorganised.

"Movements such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad are trying to escalate the situation and spur it on, while the Palestinian leadership refuses an armed intifada but wants to show to the world that the current stalemate is not sustainable," said Jarbawi.

On the Israeli side, settlers have been at the forefront. They wield significant influence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government following March elections since his coalition holds only a one-seat majority in parliament. He has, however, resisted demands to build new settlements in the West Bank as a punitive measure in response to the violence.

Will Gaza become more directly involved?

Hamas's Gaza chief, Ismail Haniya, said Friday "Gaza will fulfil its role in the Jerusalem intifada and it is more than ready for confrontation", but the Islamist movement finds itself in a difficult situation, said Zelkovitz.

"On the one hand, it's encouraging West Bank youth to join the protests, while on the other it has to retain a relative calm in Gaza to not harm its interests" in the territory devastated by last summer's war with Israel, he said.

At the same time, it cannot remain on the sidelines of a movement that has increasingly taken on a religious character and allow other groups to take the lead. Such groups include the radical northern branch of Israel's Islamic Movement, which has mobilised Arab Israelis around the cause of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Is a new intifada imminent?

On social media and in Palestinian media, an intifada has already begun.

Ariel Sharon's visit to the Al-Aqsa compound in 2000 helped ignite the second intifada which lasted until 2005. The first intifada (1987-1993) was preceded by a gradual increase in tensions, with a deadly crash in the Gaza Strip the final spark.

Middle East analyst Karim Bitar said "it would be imprecise at this point to talk about a new intifada, but it is certainly a wake-up call that serves as a reminder that the status quo is now unsustainable".