Palestinian leaders are publicly calling for nonviolence in massive protests planned for next month -- but another intifada may well be in the cards.
The Palestinian Authority seeks UN recognition of it as a state -- a resolution that America is expected to veto, based on the belief that Palestinian unilateralism will neither help the Palestinians create a viable state nor pave the path to peace with Israel. Palestinian newspapers report plans for a mass rally the day of the September UN vote, which leaders have called "Palestine 194," marking their desire to become the UN's 194th member state.
Al-Jazeera quotes Palestinian official Yasser Abed Rabbo calling for "millions to pour into streets." Marwan Barghouti, a political leader now serving five life sentences in Israel for terrorism, has expressed support for mass protests.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, architect of the statehood drive, is also pushing for the protests. With plans to retire soon, he views the UN maneuver as his legacy to the Palestinian cause.
He insists that the rallies be peaceful -- but, as Palestinian columnist Daoud Kuttab warned recently, "If this [UN] path is blocked, there is no telling which route the Palestinians will take."
Actually, it's pretty easy to guess the route: another intifada, the same route the Palestinians took in 1987 and 2000. Both uprisings yielded more bloodshed than either side could bear.
Leaders of Hamas (which controls Gaza), Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terror groups are now openly preparing for just that. Committed to Israel's destruction, they welcome any chance to mobilize large crowds for their violent aims. Journalist Walla Karaja confirms that "the military trainings have increased in the [Gaza] Strip, and we heard that huge quantities of weapons arrived from the outside."
"Outside" is code for Iran, the chief source of Palestinian weapons. Tehran would love to draw attention from the bloody protests against its ally in Syria and direct the Muslim world's anger, conveniently, back to the Palestinian problem.
For that matter, some Arab states would also welcome a new intifada, to draw fire away from their own embattled regimes.
Will the Palestinians oblige? While many wish to live in peace, many others surely want the Palestinian issue back on center stage after the Arab Spring.
A poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion in May showed that more than 70 percent of Palestinians think a new uprising is around the corner.
Many Facebook pages have popped up in recent months calling for orchestrated Palestinian uprisings against Israel. (One enterprising radical even created a "Third Palestinian Intifada" iPhone app, which Apple later removed.)
Former Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz last week announced that the country will call up military reservists in advance of the UN vote. "A sufficient quantity of nonlethal anti-riot ammunition has been procured," adds another senior official, and "units underwent training, simulating possible real intifada events."
Simulations may be redundant. For months, small numbers of Palestinians appear to have prodded Israeli forces to test their response. Late last month, Palestinians threw stones at Israeli vehicles and held large demonstrations in the villages of Ni'lin and Bil'in, west of Ramallah.
The protests -- in May for Nakba day, commemorating the "catastrophe" of Israel's creation, and in June for Naksa day, marking the Arab defeat in the 1967 war -- were initially billed as nonviolent. But Israeli forces soon had to deal with a hail of rocks and Molotov cocktails.
Some 120 countries support the ill-fated Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence at the UN. But raising Palestinian expectations will only increase frustration when the symbolic vote fails to change reality -- pouring fuel on the fires of a region already burning with rage.
Jonathan Schanzer is vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and author of "Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine."