Palestinian Authority officials headed by Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, are inciting anti-Israel violence in the West Bank, defense officials charged on Sunday as violent demonstrations spread from Hebron to Jerusalem’s Old City.
Four policemen and a number of protesters were hurt in clashes around the Temple Mount on Sunday and seven Arabs were arrested.
In Hebron, large security forces protected a Jewish march through the city but no violence was reported. Palestinians have been engaged in a series of protests following last Sunday’s cabinet decision to add the Cave of the Patriarchs to the list of national heritage sites.
Defense officials said they were concerned that the violence in Jerusalem on Sunday was an indication that Palestinian unrest was spreading and could possibly escalate into a wave of violence throughout the West Bank.
As a result, the IDF is under instructions to restrain itself out of fear that an aggressive military response could be used as an excuse by the Palestinians to escalate the violence. At the same time, the Civil Administration has been in contact with the PA, urging it to restrain its forces and rein in demonstrators.
According to assessments within the defense establishment, senior PA officials and specifically Fayyad, are encouraging Palestinian youth to partake in anti-Israel demonstrations on Fridays near security fence construction in Ni’lin and Bi’lin as well as in Hebron.
“Fayyad is actively encouraging Palestinians to use popular resistance against Israel,” one official said.
Israel believes, the official said, that Fayyad wants on the one hand to continue cooperating on a professional level with Israel on economic issues as well as the training of PA forces in Jordan, but at the same time has made a strategic decision to retain the right to use violence against Israel.
“We need to remember that Fayyad’s ultimate plan is to unilaterally declare statehood within a year and a half if negotiations do not reach an agreement by then,” another official said. “The current cooperation between Israel and the PA is assisting the Palestinians in establishing the institutions that Fayyad will use one day to show the world that he is ready to declare statehood.”
As a result, the political establishment will likely need to decide, in the near future, if it will continue assisting the Palestinians in establishing these institutions, particularly in light of the Palestinian refusal to restart peace negotiations with the Netanyahu government.
On the other hand, the IDF supports continued security cooperation with the PA, whose forces have been doing an effective job in cracking down on Hamas in the West Bank.
At the same time, though, there is concern within the IDF that, while unlikely, the PA security forces could turn their weapons against settlers and IDF soldiers in the West Bank. Recent incidents include the stabbing of a soldier at the Tapuah Junction by a PA policeman as well as the involvement of PA security officers in the shooting of Rabbi Meir Chai, a father of seven from Shavei Shomron late last year.
PA spokesman Ghassan Khatib said it was Israel that had sparked a new wave of violence in the West Bank.
“We are saying the exact opposite,” he told The Jerusalem Post
on Sunday. “It is the behavior of the Israeli government, the army and the settlers which is inciting the Palestinian public. The Palestinians are not initiating these things.”
The Palestinian government has not chopped down trees or torched a mosque in the area of Nablus, he said. It has not added Islamic sites within the Green Line to a list of Palestinian heritage sites.
“The Israeli government and the Israeli settlers have been consistently undertaking provocative activities that are inciting the Palestinian public,” said Khatib.
“The way to calm things down is for Israel to show more respect for international law and to the terms of reference for the peace process, particularly to the Road Map,” he added.
Khatib called on the Israeli government to “restrain the settlers because leaving the settlers unleashed like this, will continue the provocations.”
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, an aide to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, also accused Israel of stoking tensions at the Temple Mount to undermine recent US attempts to revive peace negotiations.
Israel’s actions, Abu Rudeineh said, would “naturally affect the American efforts and destroy them.”
Hamas’s minister of religious affairs, Taleb Abu Shaar, called on Palestinians on Sunday to rise up violently against Israel and “protect our Islamic holy places from the risk of Judaization.”
Abu Shaar also urged the United Nations to impose sanctions on Israel “because of its crimes.”
Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday night condemned Israel’s “provocative measures in Jerusalem.”
Abdullah made the remark after meeting Abbas in Amman.
Abdullah called on the international community to take immediate steps to protect Jerusalem’s holy sites.
He also criticized Israel’s decision to include Hebron’s Cave of the
Patriarchs and Bethlehem’s Rachel’s Tomb on its national heritage list.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.