Is Abbas setting the stage for a third intifada?

Washington Watch: Palestinian failure come September could spark violence born of frustration.

By DOUGLAS M. BLOOMFIELD
July 27, 2011 22:52
4 minute read.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations

PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Chip East)

 
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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says he doesn’t want to see a third intifada, and I believe him. So why does he persist in laying the groundwork for it? His two-pronged strategy of powersharing with Hamas and making a bid for UN recognition is foundering, increasing the risk that the high expectations he sparked among his people will dissolve into frustration and violence.

Marwan Barghouti, a popular potential successor to Abbas, in a statement from the Israeli prison where he is serving five life sentences on terror-related murder convictions, called for a “peaceful million-man march” in Arab, Muslim and Western capitals to coincide with September’s UN session. But at the same time he advocated “struggle and resistance on the ground” – buzzwords for terrorism.

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Abbas said his decision to go directly to the UN “will not be detrimental to peace,” but he knows better. After the UN vote, “we will return to the negotiating table,” he said. With whom? He walked out 10 months ago, and has refused to return unless Israel meets his demands.

Not only did he walk out, but he painted himself into a corner with the combination of demands on Israel, the Hamas deal and his decision to bypass negotiations and go directly to the United Nations.

He knew his power-sharing agreement with Hamas would be anathema to the United States and Israel, and would be interpreted as a rejection of a negotiated peace, notwithstanding his protests to the contrary. Did he really think making an alliance with a terrorist organization committed to the eradication of the Jewish state would advance the cause of peace? He is raising Palestinian hopes beyond his ability to deliver, resulting not in diplomatic victory, but in anger and disappointment.

Frustration over the failure of their leaders – you’d think Palestinians would be used to that by now – could be directed not only against Abbas’s government, but at Israel.

And it could spill over, with a little prodding from Iran and its friends. Syria could exploit the situation to inflame its Golan Heights border, diverting attention from its own uprising. Hezbollah could reignite the Lebanese border, and Hamas and its allies (which recently resumed rocket attacks from Gaza) could decide to escalate their bombardment.



IN THE volatile atmosphere that has seen the Arab Spring turn into a hot summer, violence could spread. Demonstrations at the UN headquarters in New York could turn anti-American if the US is seen as the only one blocking the Palestinian bid for statehood in the Security Council.

The Obama administration has clearly and repeatedly declared its strong opposition to both prongs of Abbas’s strategy, and the Congress has reinforced that with threats to cut the PA’s $400 million in annual US aid.

The Israeli government is planning a “day-after” response that could include canceling the Oslo Accords, halting the transfer of tax collections to the PA, annexing settlements, and economic sanctions. That could financially cripple the PA, but not without risks for Israel, including an end to cooperation with Palestinian security forces and violent reactions in the West Bank and possibly among Israeli Arabs.

In anticipation of another Palestinian uprising, the IDF is procuring new nonlethal weapons and developing new strategies for crowd control.

The Palestinians also are preparing, and it should surprise no one that they are employing the social media that has been so powerful in the Arab spring.

Israeli leaders successfully pressed Apple to remove an iPhone app called “The Third Palestinian Intifada,” which alerts users to upcoming protests and gives links to anti-Israel news. Facebook earlier removed a “Third Intifada” page, but you can bet the social media will still be on the front lines of a third intifada.

A SENIOR PLO official, Nabil Amr, has publicly urged Abbas to delay his statehood declaration for a year to protect relations with the US and the EU. Others have reportedly expressed the same view privately, but so far Abbas seems unwilling or unable to find a face-saving escape route.

A youth leader in the first intifada in 1987, Taisir Nasrallah, told Haaretz he does not believe a third go-round is likely because Palestinians have a stable government, “security branches function, and the economy has improved.”

But a recent Dahaf Institute poll showed a majority of Israelis expect an outbreak of Palestinian violence nonetheless.

As I said, I don’t believe Abbas wants a third intifada, but I also don’t believe he knows how to get out of the corner into which he’s painted himself, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, possibly more eager to discredit the peace process than to avert violence, has shown little inclination to help him.

dmb@his.com

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