Abbas’s double game

Abbas has carefully balanced maintaining security cooperation with Israel while at the same time making statements that can only fan the flames and perpetuate the violence.

October 15, 2015 21:03
3 minute read.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks with journalists at his office in the West Bank

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks with journalists at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)


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It’s never easy to pinpoint the birth of an historical event. Did the assassination of Franz Ferdinand start the First World War, was it the result of the major powers of Europe coalescing into the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance or did the war arise not by accident but by design? Did the American Civil War begin with the secession of the southern states or with the attack on Fort Sumter? Was Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount really the cause of the second intifada?

As we find ourselves in a spiraling wave of violence debating whether or not this is the third intifada, journalists, pundits and historians will in the years to come argue about the causes. What was the initial event? Was it the gunning down of Eitam and Naama Henkin in front of their four children, was it the rocks thrown at Alexander Levlovitz’s car on the eve of Rosh Hashana, resulting in his death from a heart attack or was it the stabbing to death of Nehemia Lavi and Aharon Banita in the Old City or did it in fact percolate with simmering violence over the past year in Jerusalem before eventually boiling over? Was the spark the attempts to change prayer arrangements at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, was it the growing power of the Salafist groups on the Mount or was it the push by right-wing Jewish activists to increase their presence and demonstrate Israeli sovereignty or was it Mahmoud Abbas’s comments about Jews “defiling al-Aksa Mosque with their filthy feet.”

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The truth is no doubt a toxic cocktail of all of the above and more, and narratives will determine how each side comes to see the passing of events. But one thing is for sure: while Abbas may not have been the instigator, he has jumped on the bandwagon of violence with incredible agility for an octogenarian politician who has been so lethargic about bringing about positive developments for his people.

Abbas has carefully balanced maintaining security cooperation with Israel while at the same time making statements that can only fan the flames and perpetuate the violence.

Instead of showing statesmanship and truly acting to douse the fire, Abbas has latched on to that age-old canard about the Jews wishing to destroy al-Aksa that has been part of the Palestinian narrative for close to a 100 years and has led to countless cycles of violence.

His cynicism peaked Wednesday night when he gave a speech accusing Israel of carrying out “field executions” and “executing children in cold blood” – later sanitized in an English handout of the speech to “shooting in cold blood.” Specifically he mentioned Ahmed Mansarah, a 13-year-old Palestinian from the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Jebl Mukaber who together with his 15-year-old cousin went on a stabbing rampage.

The 13-year-old Jewish boy that Mansarah stabbed a dozen times is in critical condition, while Mansarah is in fact hospitalized at Hadassah- University Medical Center having sustained light to moderate injuries when a civilian ran him down with his car to stop his frenzied charge.

So after a decade of mostly containing violence, what does Abbas hope to achieve by piggybacking on the current wave and going down the “Arafat path” of double talk and fabrications. Abbas finds himself between a rock and a hard place.

On the one hand, he needs to persuade the international community that he is committed to nonviolence and so continue to receive the funds that are critical for the preservation of his regime – hence the statements about “peaceful popular resistance.” He also knows that if he loosens the tether too far he will antagonize Israel to the point that it cuts off funds and without Israel he is lost.

On the other hand, 10 years into his four-year term, Abbas has little to show. Moreover, he is accused of being a collaborator with Israel and knows full well that if long overdue elections were held Hamas would sweep into power.

The violence gives Abbas the opportunity to play those conflicting interests and also to put the spotlight back on the Palestinians after years in which Syria, ISIS and other regional crises have dominated the headlines. But Abbas is playing with fire. For the moment he feels no imminent threat, as the West Bank has largely remained quiet and most of the violence has occurred inside Israel and in areas where Israel is in charge of security. Nevertheless, things could easily spin out of control and Abbas has the most to lose.

When you play with fire, you get burned.

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