IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi recently criticized those he holds responsible for thwarting terrorism in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas—the P.A. security forces themselves.
“Part of the increase in terrorism stems from the incompetence of the Palestinian security forces,” Kochavi said on Sept. 5. “The lack of governance of the [Palestinian] forces in certain areas of the West Bank constitutes fertile ground for the growth of terrorism.”
Since the end of March, he stated that “about 1,500 wanted persons were arrested, and hundreds of attacks were thwarted.”
Senior P.A. officials rejected the chief of staff’s remarks and accused Israel of responsibility for the recent wave of terrorism. P.A. chief Mahmoud Abbas sent messages to the United States and the European Union stating that the escalation of violence stems from the fact that IDF forces regularly enter the centers of Palestinian cities in Area A and the refugee camps, causing friction with Palestinian militants.
“Israel should stop these infiltrations into P.A. territory and let the P.A.’s security forces deal with the situation,” stated a senior Fatah official.
He added that the Palestinian militants claimed to be protecting the local population from the IDF. However, he admitted that there was coordination between Islamic Jihad and Hamas, both of which seek to inflame the area and destabilize Abbas’s rule.
Senior Fatah officials say that it is still possible to contain the violence in the areas of Nablus and Jenin in Samaria and prevent the wave of terrorism from spreading southward toward Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron.
Still, Israel must be cautious not to expand the cycle of violence and drag other groups in the Judea/Samaria population into the fray. Israel should be especially wary of collective punishment. The older generation of the Palestinian public still remembers the dire economic consequences of the second intifada in 2000 and does not want to return to that situation.
Today, tens of thousands of Palestinians from Judea and Samaria work in Israel daily, and they want to continue to do so. The economic situation is at the forefront of the Palestinian public’s mind. The public understands that Israel is in an election campaign while the 87-year-old Abbas is facing retirement. Until the battle for succession in the P.A. is decided and a new leader is chosen in a general election, there is no resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the horizon.
During the second intifada, Abbas said an armed struggle against Israel was a serious mistake. Instead, he promoted the idea of “peaceful popular resistance”; that is, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, demonstrations and marches without the use of firearms.
On Nov. 2, 2012, Abbas granted an interview to Israel’s Channel 2 in which he pledged that as long as he was P.A. chief, there would be no third intifada.
“We don’t want terrorism, and we don’t want to use force and weapons,” Abbas stated in the interview. “We want to use diplomacy, politics, negotiations and peaceful resistance.”
According to senior P.A. officials, Abbas is not concerned that the fighting will spread south to Ramallah and overthrow his rule. The Palestinian security forces control the situation. Abbas felt secure enough to go to Egypt this week and will travel to New York to participate in the United Nations General Assembly discussions.
Unlike Yasser Arafat, who rode the terror tiger, Abbas does not want to end his political career with blood, fire and smoke. For him, the most important thing is to maintain the stability of his rule and transfer power in an orderly manner to his intended successor, Hussein al-Sheikh.
According to Fatah sources, Abbas and al-Sheikh signed an agreement in which al-Sheikh guaranteed that after Abbas departs from the political stage, his family’s economic empire will be preserved and his two sons will not be harmed, which are essential things for Abbas.
Sources in the Fatah movement claim that the recent wave of violence is tantamount to venting hot air and releasing pressure, but is not the beginning of a new intifada.
According to them, the Palestinian street is not interested in an intifada and knows there is no purpose to the current wave of violence and that it will eventually disappear.
“An intifada is a political, social, military and mental state, which requires a national consensus of all the factions and the implementation of this consensus in all aspects of life,” explained a senior Fatah figure. “This is not the case today, and if Israel does not act stupidly, we will not sink to that situation.”
Today, there is no united leadership that could lead an intifada. Abbas strongly opposes it, and the military power of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Judea and Samaria is not sufficient to trigger an intifada without Fatah.
Palestinian society is divided without a national consensus. Abbas has rejected all the demands from senior Fatah figures to implement the recent decisions of the PLO’s Central Council to suspend the Oslo Accords and freeze security coordination with Israel. Abbas is not interested in escalation. In his judgment, the wave of violence and terrorism will eventually subside.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israeli radio and television, is a senior Middle East analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.