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After losses, Palestinian zeal for intifadah flags

Many are asking whether revolt has helped them

Palestinian women held midday prayers at an Israeli army checkpoint after troops blocked their passage to Jerusalem. Palestinian women held midday prayers at an Israeli army checkpoint after troops blocked their passage to Jerusalem. (DAVID SILVERMAN/GETTY IMAGES)

RAMALLAH, West Bank - Every year, large rallies in the territories and abroad had commemorated the anniversary of the Palestinian uprising that broke out in 2000. But this year, there was nothing, and Palestinians are asking themselves whether anything at all was gained from the revolt.

Many Palestinians say they are worse off now, increasingly worried about internal fighting and further from statehood than when the uprising erupted on Sept. 28, 2000, after former Israeli leader Ariel Sharon visited a disputed holy shrine in Jerusalem and a US-sponsored Mideast peace summit failed.

"It is a silent admission on the part of Palestinians that the uprising has been an unmitigated disaster," prominent pollster Khalil Shikaki said of the absence of commemorations.

For years, Palestinians hit Israel with suicide bombers and rockets, and Israel struck back with aerial attacks, ground incursions, and arrest raids.

But the vastly outgunned Palestinians have been exhausted by the armed confrontation. A total of 4,453 Palestinians have been killed, along with 1,114 Israelis.

Israel has built a West Bank barrier, which it says was designed to keep out attacks. But the enclosure dips into the West Bank at various points, putting 8.5 percent of the territory on the Israeli side. In Palestinian eyes, it is a thinly veiled land grab.

Israel has reoccupied West Bank towns and cities, sharply restricted Palestinian movement within the West Bank, and banned traffic between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinian dependence on foreign aid has grown, and most Gazans survive on less than $2 a day.

The number of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, meanwhile, has soared, from about 1,650 to 11,000.

"Everything came to a standstill for seven years," said Adnan Attari, a 30-year-old merchant from a village near the West Bank town of Ramallah. "We didn't move forward but backward."

But the lack of commemoration reflects more than the uprising's setbacks. With the Hamas and Fatah factions locked in a battle for power, Palestinians are more concerned about their internal security than their conflict with Israel, polls show.

Fierce infighting began after the militant Islamists of Hamas won 2006 parliamentary elections, then came to a head in June, when Hamas violently seized control of Gaza from Fatah. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, immediately expelled Hamas from power and set up his own rival government in the West Bank.

The Israeli and Egyptian borders with Gaza have been sealed to traffic and goods, and last week Israel declared Gaza a hostile territory because of Palestinian rocket fire into Israeli towns.

Manal Shaheen, a 36-year-old Gaza mother of three, said the current hardships after the Gaza-West Bank breach have eclipsed the uprising. "Our terrible state has made us even forget important dates in our lives," Shaheen said.

Hamas, which led the armed struggle at its height, vowed that the uprising would continue until Israel is expelled from Palestinian territories.

But David Baker, an Israeli official, said the Palestinians have exchanged their "strategic decision to confront Israel via this terror" for a decision to work for a two-state solution. The United States hopes to build on new peace momentum with an international peace conference in Annapolis, Md., in November.

"We do believe that something has happened and for the better," Baker said.

At the United Nations on Friday, Abbas said his government was completely committed to the US-proposed peace conference, and he vowed that the "olive branch of peace" would not fall from his hands.

Abbas reiterated his government's position that the key to solving the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians lay in directly addressing the divisive "final status" issues, including Palestinian statehood, the status of Jerusalem, and the right of return for refugees.

The November meeting proposed by the Bush administration is aimed at bringing together all parties involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, including key regional players such as Syria and Saudi Arabia, as well as Jordan and Egypt, which have already signed peace agreements with Israel.

Hamas has opposed the meeting from the outset, and concerns remain that its continued rejection, along with Hamas's refusal to recognize Israel or to rule out violence against the Jewish state, could scuttle any gains.

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