Arafat in far-away Tunis had nothing to do with it. But once the intifada had started, he embraced it. The local Fatah cadres took command.
Soon after, Sharon came to power. He did everything possible to stoke the fires. In the documentary, his closest assistants were interviewed at length and disclosed that Sharon did this quite deliberately.
His aim was to cause a general uprising, in order to give him a legitimate reason for re-conquering the West Bank, after parts of it were turned over to the Palestinian authority in the Oslo agreements. And indeed, a large number of suicide attacks and other outrages provided the necessary national and international legitimization for Operation Defensive Shield, in which Israeli troops re-entered all West Bank towns and spread death and destruction. In particular, the Palestinian Authority's offices were systematically ransacked, including the Education and Social Services ministries. Arafat was surrounded and isolated in the Ramallah Mukata'ah ("Compound"), and kept a virtual prisoners for years, until his murder.
In the film, the advisors readily admitted that Sharon did not even contemplate a political initiative to end the intifada -- his sole aim was to vanquish the Palestinian resistance by brute force. During this intifada 4,944 Palestinians were killed, as against 1,011 Israelis. (In the preceding intifada, 1,593 Palestinians and 84 Israelis found their death.)
Israelis believe that Sharon's brutal methods were a great success. The Second Intifada sputtered out.
WILL THERE be a Third Intifada? If so, when? Has it already begun or were the recent events only a kind of general rehearsal?
No one knows, least of all our security forces. There is no reliable information from the agents. Again, everything is spontaneous.
One thing is certain: Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat's heir, is very much afraid of it. He waited for a few days, and then, once he was sure that this was not a general uprising, he ordered his American-trained police forces to intervene and put an end to the demonstrations.
More than that, he publicly condemned the outbreaks and accused Binyamin Netanyahu of deliberately fomenting them.
One of the causes for this suspicion was that on Friday the Israeli police did not prevent young Palestinians from reaching the Temple Mount ("Haram al-Sharif"), as they do frequently when there is the slightest suspicion of coming unrest.
I put the question to a circle of friends: Assuming for a moment that Abbas is right, what might have been Netanyahu's motive?
One answered: He is afraid that Barak Obama will, in his upcoming visit to Jerusalem, demand the resumption of the "peace process." Netanyahu will tell him that, in view of the new intifada, that is impossible.
Another volunteered: Netanyahu will tell the President that Abbas has lost his authority and therefore is not a viable partner.
Yet another: Netanyahu will tell the Israeli public that we have an emergency at hand, so we need to set up a Government of National Unity at once. All Zionist parties must be pushed by their voters to join.
And so forth.
BE THAT as it may, the pertinent question is whether a spontaneous outbreak is in the offing.
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