Geopolitics

The Post-Oslo Generation, Poised For Third Intifada?

As air strikes and missile attacks intensify following the deaths of both Israeli and Palestinian teens, neither the region's leadership nor rank and file hold much hope for a peaceful way out.

Young Palestinians carry their belongings as they walk past the rubble of their family's house destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza.
Young Palestinians carry their belongings as they walk past the rubble of their family's house destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza.
Laurent Zecchini

-Analysis-

JERUSALEM — It is possible that, without us really noticing, the Third Intifada has already begun?

The killing of a young Palestinian, on July 2, was an apparent act of vengeance that came after the discovery of the bodies of the three young Israelis abducted on June 12. “An eye for an eye.” This Old Testament principle has always been popular in the Holy Land. But observing that the Jewish and Palestinian peoples are the heirs of a sum of wrongs and spilt blood is not enough to remove all responsibility from their political and religious leaders.

Without claiming responsibility for it, Khaled Mashal, the political leader of Hamas, the Islamist movement in power in Gaza, congratulated the people who had abducted the three students of a Talmudic school in the West Bank. In response, extremist rabbis such as Yitzhak Ginsburg and Yitzhak Shapira issued diatribes of hatred on social networks.

If such confirmation was needed, we now have it: Jewish terrorism exists alongside Palestinian terrorism.

This situation is all the more worrying since this escalation in sectarian violence comes as the reflection of a sharp rise of military tensions between Israel and Islamist movements in Gaza. Israel has concentrated its troops in the south, and the hawks in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government are calling for a large scale intervention to topple “Hamastan” once and for all.

But reason can still prevail. It is neither in Israel’s nor in Hamas’ interest to start a new war. The latter now has the means to strike Tel Aviv, and Netanyahu would struggle to survive politically if the heart of the Jewish state were badly hit. As for Hamas, it is already in dire straits. Gaza has been subjected to an Israeli blockade for seven years, and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Egypt tightened the grip further by destroying the hundreds of smuggling tunnels that were the economical lifeline for the 1.7 million Gazans.

Netanyahu's favor

Hamas seemed to have learned its lesson: The only way out of its isolation was to reconcile with Fatah, the party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a move which would grant it access to an unprecedented legitimacy. But with the murder of the three Israelis, the whole logic behind this political aggiornamento collapsed, and Hamas finds itself once again subjected to public scorn, with the reconciliation strategy in tatters.

Seen from that angle, the triple abduction, beyond the human tragedy, has been a political windfall for Netanyahu. By accusing Hamas, he managed to turn an intelligence fiasco into a diplomatic and political victory. Its positive consequences were evident for an Israeli government that tries its best to delegitimize and divide the Palestinian movement.

Diplomatically isolated since the international community supported the principle of a national unity Palestinian government, Netanyahu, who instead saw it as a move that would strengthen terrorism, regained the upper hand.

He took advantage of the situation by launching a vast crackdown on the West Bank. The question now is whether this political offensive will be followed by an all-out military intervention and ground war. Israel wants to reestablish the deterrence power of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) against Gaza, but its main goal is political. It is to undermine the grounds of the Palestinian reconciliation by insisting that one of its members, Hamas, remains a terrorist organization.

Summoned to distance himself from an act described as despicable, Mahmoud Abbas made the Palestinian security forces join the hunt for the abductors of the three Israelis, thus turning the Palestinian authority into the Israeli army’s security subcontractor in the West Bank, a move that left many victims, both human and political.

The last round of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians ended amid general indifference, as if the previous nine months of talks, focused on the peace “process,” but never on what is essential, had never taken place. In this context, it will be a long time before anybody tries to revive the negotiations again.

Two scenarios seem on offer for Israel and Palestine. The first one is the status quo, in other words, political deadlock, which can only reassure an Israeli Prime Minister with no historical vision for his country. The IDF will continue its role of an occupation army in the West Bank to maintain what is de facto apartheid. The other scenario, that of a Third Intifada, might be written by the generation of young Palestinians who grew up after the 1993 Oslo Accords.

That generation was young at the time of the Second Intifada. It is now reaching maturity with no other future in sight than a dead end: no Palestinian state and a daily life similar to their parents’, made of humiliations, random arrests and violence. There is a possibility that this new sacrificed generation will find its role models in the radical circles of the Islamic State.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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