Palestinian Authority long been ‘speaking in two voices,’ says former Israeli defense official

Col. (res.) Moshe Elad, one of the founders of security coordination between the Israel Defense Forces and the P.A., notes that the “glorification of martyrs” is a daily event for Palestinian leaders.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas meets with members of the PLO Executive Committee in Ramallah on Oct. 3, 2019. Photo by Flash90.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas meets with members of the PLO Executive Committee in Ramallah on Oct. 3, 2019. Photo by Flash90.

The Palestinian Authority has been “speaking in two voice” for a long time, promoting moderate messages to Western and Israeli ears on the one hand, and radical messages internally for public Palestinian consumption on the other, a former Israeli defense official has said.

Ra’ad Hazem, a Palestinian terrorist who murdered three Israeli civilians in a shooting attack in Tel Aviv on Thursday, was shot dead by Israeli security forces in Jaffa on Friday morning.

Hazem’s father, a former P.A. security officer, Fathi Hazem, praised his son’s actions to crowds who gathered outside of his Jenin home the following day, saying: “You will achieve victory if Allah wills it, in your generation, in the coming years, in the coming days,” and shouting, “You will head out to freedom and gain your independence. Allah, liberate our Al-Aqsa mosque from the contamination of the occupiers.”

He has since evaded Israeli security attempts to apprehend him, together with the terrorist’s two brothers.

Col. (res.) Moshe Elad, one of the founders of security coordination between the Israel Defense Forces and the P.A., said there should be no surprises regarding this type of rhetoric.

“To Western and Israeli ears, the P.A. talks about the two-state solution and says there is a basis to work for peace. Yet internally, there is a daily glorification of ‘martyrs,’ ” said Elad, a lecturer at the Western Galilee College in northern Israel.

“There are all types of commemoration events for child murderers, terrorists who committed horrific crimes,” said Elad. “They receive a place of honor in the P.A. There is incitement to mosques on Fridays and in school. There is no atmosphere of peace.”

Elad said he noticed a rise in such incitement, adding that while in the past, P.A. officials said occasional declarations would be released as part of an effort to win over Palestinian hearts and minds, now, “it is not occasional. It is happening all of the time. The P.A. has become part of the general trend of terror.”

On the other hand, he said, the P.A. remains staffed by figures and officers who continue to conduct security coordination with the Israel Defense Forces. Many of them promote different messaging to those in the P.A., “who have taken on themselves the role of those who whip Israel. One day, it’s the governor of Jenin who attacks Israel, and the next day, it is the P.A.’s governors of Ramallah and Hebron. Each time, it is someone else. Hence, there should be no surprise by what the terrorist’s father said. He lives in this atmosphere. Did anyone expect him to come out against his son? That he’d speak out against Jenin refugee camp? He won’t take that chance. I don’t know if he believes in what he said, but he said it, and he will be punished [by Israel] for it.”

P.A. security forces need to be pressured by Israel to continue joint coordination, assessed Elad, even though that coordination is based on a common interest of repressing Hamas in the West Bank.

Elad named P.A. officials like Hussein El-Sheikh, head of the General Authority for Civil Affairs, and Maj. Gen. Majed Faraj, head of the P.A.’s General Intelligence Service, as facing a dead end when P.A. chief Mahmoud Abbas leaves the scene.

“They, together with a big group of people, will have nothing to do after Abbas if they are not elected. Hence, they continue to coordinate with Israel on both civilian and security affairs,” said Elad. “When they speak to their Israeli counterparts, they talk about trying to stabilize the system, and the Israeli system echoes these messages up to the Israeli prime minister and defense minister. It is, in principle, true. These Palestinian figures have a personal interest in achieving stability.”

‘First shot towards Hamas revolt has been fired’

Faraj is a “target of Hamas” as much as Israel is, noted Elad. “But what happens after Abbas? In my view, the first shot towards a Hamas revolt has already been fired. How will the P.A.’s battalions respond on the day of a crisis? If, along with the IDF, they take over quickly to prevent a revolt by Hamas, that would be a reasonable scenario. If not, no one knows where things might go.”

Elad cited a recent survey by the Palestinian Center Policy and Survey Research finding a high percentage of Palestinians saying they preferred Hamas to the P.A.

“There is a tendency by the Palestinian public to choose Hamas, not for religious alternatives, but because they see it as an alternative to the P.A.’s corruption and lack of transparency. The P.A.’s image is at rock bottom, and many Palestinians want to get rid of it,” said Elad. “They prefer [Hamas political bureau chief Ismail] Haniyeh to Abbas. Although if Marwan Barghouti”—the imprisoned Palestinian terrorist associated with the Fatah Party who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison—“runs, he’d defeat Haniyeh in the race to be head of the PLO.”

Elad said that Jenin had been a terror and violence capital for decades, tracing the problem back all the way to the First Intifada from 1987 to 1991.

In 1987, Elad served as the Israeli military governor of Jenin. At that time, he recalled “Jenin used to be the quietest area, together with Tulkarm. Some thought this was because it was close to the seam line, that it enjoyed good ties with Israeli Arabs and because Jews would visit. What happened to Jenin? The IDF decided that it would stop supervising parts of it due to a lack of resources.”

In 1991, Elad said, stories emerged of Palestinian armed factions forming across the city, “and since then, Israel hasn’t been able to defeat his phenomenon. Jenin turned into a terror capital. Can Israel change this? Absolutely. It’s a matter of prioritization. It’s a function of how many personnel we dedicated to the city.”

Abbas and the P.A., he noted, are unable to enter the city themselves, and the P.A. leader “hasn’t visited it in years. He can’t go in.”

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