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PA chief Abbas pays rare visit to Jenin

The visit marks Abbas's second official trip to the Samaria city since being elected chairman of the P.A. 18 years ago.

Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, Sept. 3, 2020. Credit: Flash90.
Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, Sept. 3, 2020. Credit: Flash90.

Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas made a rare visit to Jenin on Wednesday, a week after the Israel Defense Forces concluded a major counterterrorism operation in the northern Samaria city.

Abbas was also considering entering Jenin’s refugee camp, often referred to by Palestinians as the “Martyr’s Capital,” according to Israel’s public broadcaster. Palestinians reported the deployment of officers from the P.A. Presidential Guard in the U.N.-administered camp ahead of Abbas’s arrival from Ramallah by Jordanian helicopter on Wednesday.

The delegation also includes PLO Secretary General Hussein al-Sheikh and Majed Faraj, head of the P.A. General Intelligence Service. Among other local officials, the men are scheduled to meet with Akram Rajoub, the P.A.-appointed governor of Jenin.

Wednesday’s visit marks Abbas’s second official trip to Jenin since being elected P.A. chairman 18 years ago, with his last known public tour of the city having taken place in the summer of 2012.

Recent polling shows that the 87-year-old Abbas is deeply unpopular among Palestinians, who increasingly support armed terrorist groups. In Jenin specifically, at least 45% of residents are believed to be affiliated with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Indeed, the P.A., which is obligated under the Oslo Accords to arrest terrorists, has allowed Jenin to become a hornet’s nest for Palestinian armed groups. Terrorists from Jenin have been responsible for more than 50 shootings in 2023, and 59 people from the city have carried out terror attacks since the beginning of 2022, killing three civilians and wounding 14.

Speaking on CNN on July 9, U.S. President Joe Biden warned that the leadership in Ramallah “has lost its credibility,” explaining that the P.A. had created a “vacuum for extremism.”

In the early hours of Monday, July 3, the IDF sent more than 1,000 troops into Jenin in a major counterterror operation. During the 48-hour raid, Israeli forces killed 12 Palestinians—all confirmed terrorists—and arrested more than 100 terror suspects.

However, hundreds of armed terrorists escaped the city to avoid engaging the IDF’s brigade-sized force of special units. 

As Israeli troops withdrew, Jenin’s P.A. mayor instructed local terrorist groups to operate with caution. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Nidal al-Obeidi warned that the army’s departure might be part of a “tactical plan to target resistance fighters after the end of the operation.”

Despite the success of the Israeli action, which caused significant damage to the terrorist presence in Jenin and its surroundings, it did not significantly degrade the number of terrorists and other opponents to Abbas’s rule, counterterrorism expert professor Boaz Ganor told JNS on Tuesday.

“The Israeli operation created conditions that are objectively more comfortable for [the P.A.’s return to Jenin], but at the same time, it increased difficulties for this as well due to recurring criticism by the P.A.’s enemies—Hamas, PIJ and other opponents, who say that the P.A. apparently ‘collaborates’ with Israel and that the Israeli military maneuver was planned and implemented in cooperation or at least with the knowledge of the P.A.,” said Ganor.

Abbas’s personal status is shaken within his Fatah party, due to his age and poor condition, and the lack of change in relations between the P.A. and Israel, Ganor assessed, creating a very real risk of a loss of further control in other Palestinian-governed cities across Judea and Samaria.

This week, Palestinian Authority intelligence claimed that Hamas gunmen planned to attack P.A. institutions in Jenin, according to Arab affairs expert Yoni Ben-Menachem.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Israel’s Security Cabinet voted in favor of a series of economic and defense measures to boost the P.A. “Israel will act to prevent the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, while demanding that it cease its anti-Israel activity in the international legal-diplomatic arena, the incitement in its media and education system, the payments to the families of terrorists and murderers, and the illegal construction in Area C,” the government said following the vote.

The P.A. has rejected Jerusalem’s demands, with P.A. Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh saying that payments to the families of terrorists and the pursuit of the Jewish state in international forums would continue.

Notably, in spite of Abbas’s announcement that he would suspend security cooperation with the Jewish state over the Jenin operation, Wednesday’s visit is said to be coordinated with the Israeli military and Israel Security Agency. When asked what security measures would be taken to secure the P.A. leader’s trip, the IDF offered no comment.

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