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But they still think it's happening. Any second now.
JERUSALEM — "For a while now I’ve wondered why there’s been no Third Intifada," New York Times columnist Tom Friedman mused, in a Feb. 4 column entitled "The Third Intifada."
He is not alone.
In fact, in the past 14 months the third intifada has seemed ubiquitous everywhere but where it is expected to erupt — in the Palestinian street. Pundits, media outlets and politicians have seemed certain for over a year now that a third Palestinian uprising is upon us. Its failure to materialize hasn’t slowed down the predictions. It’s only created a new category of intifada writing: explaining the delay.
In February 2013, a full year before Friedman, Amira Hass, the Palestinian affairs correspondent for Israel's daily Ha'aretz, published a column entitled "Why hasn't a third intifada broken out yet among the Palestinians?" (Despite ripe conditions, she posited, the answer was "a lack of faith" among Palestinians in their leadership.)
In September, Moussa abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official, predicted on his Facebook page that "We are facing a political failure for the Palestinian Authority and the beginning of a new popular intifada against Israel."
In October, Al Jazeera wondered "Is a Third Intifada in the Offing?"
In November, at a moment of some frustration with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Secretary of State John Kerry fumed "I mean, does Israel want a third intifada?"
A few days later, the veteran Israeli Arab affairs specialist Shlomi Eldar published an analysis explaining why "Despite despair, no signs of third Palestinian intifada." (With memories still relatively fresh from the Second Intifada, in the first half of the 2000s, Eldar explained, it is not what Palestinians want.)
Then, in December 2013, when the third intifada had still failed to materialize, Hess published another column, a sort of primer telling readers "How the third intifada will start." (Any random act of violence against Palestinians could be the spark, she said.)
The arrival of 2014 didn't seem to change journalists’ minds.
In January, sources within the Palestinian Authority leaked to Israeli media an "internal document" foreseeing — yes — "a third intifada."
Academia got into the game, with Tel Aviv University posting an exhaustive but inconclusive inquiry that posed the question "Is a Third Intifada Brewing?"
Jump ahead to this week, and the crisis in the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. The British magazine The Week described the situation in a column entitled — you guessed it — "Fears of third intifada as Middle East peace looks hopeless."
Meanwhile, over the weekend, a rebellion looking very much like the beginning of an intifada broke out. Hundreds of hard-line West Bank youths threw stones at Israeli soldiers who demolished five illegal structures and the tires on the local brigade commander's car were slashed. Moshe Ya'alon, Israel's defense minister, accused the hooligans of "domestic terrorism" and a 16-year-old was arrested for leading the stone throwers.
The catch? This uprising is taking place at the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar — where extremists fear the Israeli government is putting the survival of their community in peril.
Prophecy is a tricky business. You never know whether your eyes are trained to the right place.