Violence or stability?

Palestinian journalists say that Abbas gives a lot of thought to the legacy he will leave - will it be violence or stability, terrorism or peace?

December 11, 2014 22:25
3 minute read.
Ziad Abu Ein

PA Minister Ziad Abu Ein faces off with IDF soldier during protest in West Bank, December 10. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Palestinian Authority official Ziad Abu Ein’s death on Wednesday after suffering a massive heart attack during an anti-settlement demonstration near Shilo is liable to unleash a new wave of violence.

Everything should be done on both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides to prevent matters from spiraling out of control.

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Video footage of what was essentially a nonviolent demonstration against the Jewish outpost of Adei Ad shows Abu Ein being gripped by the throat by a border policeman – apparently a driver who was not supposed to be involved in crowd control – during a confrontation.

He also apparently received a blow to the head from the helmet of a soldier. Abu Ein is then shown sitting on the ground clutching his chest before losing consciousness.

An IDF medic is seen attempting to treat Abu Ein.

In the wake of an autopsy by a team of pathologists made up of Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians, conflicting accounts were published. According to a preliminary Israeli report, the death was caused by “blockage of a coronary artery due to hemorrhaging beneath an arteriosclerotic plaque.” Dr. Chen Kugel, head of the L. Greenberg Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir, and Dr. Mia Forman added that there were signs of “pressure on the neck” and that Abu Ein’s “fragile heart condition caused him to be more sensitive to stress.”

Meanwhile, Hussein al-Sheikh, a former PA minister, said that according to an autopsy performed by Jordanian and Palestinian pathologists, Abu Ein, 55, had been physically assaulted by a soldier and later died as a result.

In a sense, the two accounts were two different “narratives” of the same event. From the point of the view of most Palestinians, the technicality that Abu Ein died of a heart attack does not negate the fact that his death was triggered by the violence of IDF soldiers.

Abu Ein was a particularly popular figure in Palestinian society. Unlike other high-ranking PA officials who tend to put on airs, drive around in expensive cars and insulate themselves from the masses, Abu Ein was a grassroots activist closely connected to the Palestinian street.

As head of the PLO’s Commission Against the Separation Wall and Settlements, he was responsible for organizing “popular resistance” activities. In the past he was intimately involved with the high-profile issue of Palestinians held in Israeli jails as deputy minister for prisoner affairs.

His popularity among Palestinians is also attributable to his violent past. In 1982, after being the first Palestinian to be extradited from the US, Abu Ein was sentenced to life for his role in a 1979 terrorist attack in Tiberias. Two 16-year-olds – Boaz Lahav and David Lankri – were killed and 36 others were wounded when a bomb went off during a Lag Ba’omer celebration. Abu Ein was released in the 1985 Jibril prisoner exchange.

In part due to his popularity among Palestinians, in part due to the already tense state of affairs, security forces are bracing for violent protests this weekend. Israel should do everything possible to defuse the situation. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s statement expressing sorrow over Abu Ein’s death was a step in the right direction. So was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s publicly made promise, made via his close associate Yitzhak Molcho, that Israel would investigate the incident.

The real danger is that security coordination between the PA and Israel will deteriorate. Jibril Rajoub, a high-ranking Fatah official and former head of the PA Preventive Security Force in the West Bank, called to stop the coordination altogether.

A total breakdown of coordination is unlikely for a number of reasons. First, the PA receives important intelligence from Israel that enables it to maintain control in the West Bank and prevent the rise of Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

Second, security coordination is the basis for PA stability, which in turn facilitates control over donor countries’ funds that keep the PA operating and paying salaries.

Finally, the economic situation on the West Bank is fragile.

Most do not want to risk the little they have.

But PA President Mahmoud Abbas might decide that a partial break in security cooperation is politically advantageous.

He might think that at his advanced age he has nothing to lose and that, absent any real successes to boast of, he wants to leave a lasting mark. Palestinian journalists say that Abbas gives a lot of thought to the legacy he will leave. Will it be violence or stability, terrorism or peace?

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