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The meaning of Abbas’s Jenin visit

The Palestinian Authority is trying to reassert control over Palestinian cities in Judea and Samaria.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech at P.A. headquarters in Ramallah, May 5, 2020. Credit: Flash90.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech at P.A. headquarters in Ramallah, May 5, 2020. Credit: Flash90.
Enia Krivine
Enia Krivine is the senior director of the Israel Program and the FDD National Security Network at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Enia on Twitter @EKrivine.

On July 12, Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas visited the refugee camp in Jenin for the first time since 2005. The visit came days after a 48-hour IDF operation targeting terrorist infrastructure there, which dealt a heavy blow to Abbas’s adversaries Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

A P.A. spokesman denounced the IDF operation as a “war crime,” but Abbas was quick to leverage the situation, moving his own forces into Jenin in the wake of the IDF withdrawal in an attempt to reassert P.A. control of the lawless enclave.

Abbas is once again playing the double game of vilifying the Jewish state while relying on the IDF to ensure the survival of his regime.

During the two-day IDF operation, Israeli forces systematically destroyed terrorist infrastructure in the labyrinthine refugee camp section of the city, where Hamas and Islamic Jihad had built a stronghold.

Abbas has long feared the influence of Iran-backed terror organizations in Judea and Samaria and is concerned that parts of Samaria could fall into the hands of Hamas the way Gaza did in 2007.

On the heels of the Israeli operation in Jenin, Abbas ordered hundreds of armed P.A. security forces into the city in a show of force intended to demonstrate that Abbas’s Fatah Party is still a relevant player.

Before the IDF operation, Jenin would not have been a safe destination for the aged, ailing and wildly unpopular Abbas. In recent years, the refugee camp section of Jenin has become a hotbed for terrorism and a no-go zone for the U.S.-backed P.A. and Palestinian Security Forces.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant praised the IDF operation as having “fully achieved” its goal of restoring Israel’s ability to effectively carry out security operations in the area—a responsibility that the P.A. and its security forces were heretofore unable and unwilling to fulfil. According to the IDF, since last year, residents of Jenin carried out some 50 shooting attacks and 19 wanted Palestinians have tried to evade Israeli forces by hiding out in the city.

Gallant also warned that Israel has “the capability to copy this operation in other locations,” hinting at raids on other pockets of lawlessness in Samaria that have been the focus of terror activity, like Nablus and Tulkarm.

The U.S., Israel and other partners have a strong interest in preventing Iran-backed terror organizations from taking over Judea and Samaria. In a recent television interview, President Joe Biden told CNN that the P.A. had “lost its credibility” among Palestinians, contributing to the “vacuum of extremism” in the territory. A muscular show by Palestinian security forces in Jenin, followed by a visit from Abbas himself, appears to be an attempt to gain credibility and fill the void that has bred so much violence in the city.

The UAE condemned the IDF incursion into Jenin and promised $15 million towards reconstruction. However, the Emirates have reportedly made the funds contingent on Abbas retaking control of the city, bolstering the P.A. while ensuring the territory does not fall back into the hands of Iran-backed terror groups.

Israel is also taking steps to sustain Abbas’s rule. On July 9, ministers in Israel’s security cabinet voted in favor of measures to strengthen the P.A. Among the measures were plans to ease economic and travel conditions faced by Palestinians in the territory, including approval of a new industrial zone outside Hebron and expanding the hours of operation at a key land bridge between the territory and Jordan. Israel also released 55 detainees who had been arrested during the operation in Jenin, crediting the P.A. for their release.  

The P.A. regime is a far cry from democracy, but it is the only thing that is preventing Judea and Samaria from devolving into a situation that resembles Hamas-ruled Gaza. The U.S. should state clearly that destroying terror infrastructure in Judea and Samaria is a positive development, consistent with the U.S. vision for the territory. Arab partners should be publicly saying the same. Rebuilding Jenin with Emirati funding and influence is a good start. Other terror dens in Samaria will likely be next.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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