Ostensibly, the message praising Majd Jammal Matir’s “martyrdom” in a knifing attack which wounded two border policemen in Jerusalem’s Old City on December 13 was little different from many messages of condolence and praise for perpetrators of terrorism in the area.
But the micro note, due to two crucial details it conveys, reflects in a major way the tortuous relationship between President Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority he rules over with the help of over 170,000 employees, and a budget of $4.9 billion, and Israel.
The first detail is that it was the Fatah movement, over which Abbas presides, that conveyed the message that mourned Matir’s martyrdom. The second detail is that in the same expression of condolence, Matir is linked to another “martyr” from the Kalandiya refugee camp, Gen. Bashir Nafi, a former senior officer in Military Intelligence, one of the many security services that existed under Arafat at the time of his death.
The question is why the link? After all, Kalandiya refugee camp, a no-man’s-land between Israeli Jerusalem and the PA, has been home to the highest number of terrorists since the end of the Second Intifada. Why single out Nafi among the dozens of terrorists who have been killed since then from Kalandiya, especially given the fact that Nafi was killed by chance in the Hyatt Hotel bombing in Amman in 2005 by an Islamist group that had no bearing to the Palestinian conflict?
The answer is clear. Fatah, Abbas’s political party, wanted to emphasize the link between the PA, Fatah and its president and martyrdom for the Palestinian cause. That relationship will be cemented evermore by the ample funds that will flow to the terrorist’s family in the coming years. The PA distributes $300 million annually to terrorists imprisoned in Israel, their families and the families of dead terrorists like Matir.
Simultaneously, the same PA, which encourages “martyrdom” on behalf of the Palestinian cause, maintains a level of security cooperation with Israel that is almost unprecedented to quell the very terrorism it encourages. The PA pursues Hamas and Jihad al-Islami terrorists, common enemies to both Abbas and Israel, and disrupts and destroys their front organizations, with the same vengeance as does Israel.
Its 6,000 officers make sure to remain in their barracks and their stations when the IDF pursues terrorists on the run or make preventive arrests against those planning terrorist acts. Intelligence flows freely in meetings between senior Israeli IDF officers and their Palestinian counterparts in Abbas’s security services. Often, such meetings embarrassingly show up in photos in the Hamas media, which condemn and deride them.
Israelis who mistakenly find themselves in PA-controlled areas, or who intentionally defied the prohibition to do business in these areas and then find themselves attacked, are often rescued by the PA security, which Hamas propagandists readily exploit to deride the “Dayton” forces, so named to emphasize the fact that they were recreated and retrained by a US Army general bearing that name, after being pummeled in the war the PA waged against Israel in 2000.
Yet both sides, despite the painful contradictions entailed in the relationship – the loss of innocent lives (the Israeli victims are mostly civilians) on the Israeli side, and the loss of legitimacy for the PA – continue the close security cooperation and, beyond that, considerable political and functional cooperation as well.
For Israel, as painful as the recent spate of terrorist attacks may be, and no less so, attacks in the past, the situation in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria in the past decade is many times better than the standoff between Israel and Hamas-controlled Gaza.
In Gaza, Israel has been involved in bouts of war with Hamas instead of security cooperation. In Judea and Samaria, Israel is able to go after the terrorists and either apprehend or kill them. In Gaza, most of those who launch missiles either quickly run for cover in tunnels, take refuge in nearby apartment buildings or launch the missiles from underground silos. In Judea and Samaria, a company (100 men) is usually the highest number of soldiers required to chase the terrorists or make preventive arrests. In the last bout in Gaza, Israel called up tens of thousands of reserves, deploys hundreds of tanks and dozens of F-16s inflicting a deterring pain, but hardly making more than a dent in the Hamas infrastructure.
For the PA, the stakes of not playing ball with Israel are even higher. Israel carries by far the major burden of drying the large Hamas swamp in PA territory. Without Israeli bayonets, the PA could face defeat as in 2007, when it lost Gaza, and at best a prolonged civil war. It needs Israel.
There is only one, albeit inevitable event that can change the status quo – the death of Abbas.
A minority of voices among Israel’s decision-makers say Israel should not intervene in the succession crisis – that the costs of possible chaos or disintegration into warlord areas will be offset by the benefits of such a major blow to the Palestinian political cause in achieving statehood alongside of Israel or as its replacement.
The more bureaucratic-oriented majority opt to intervene in helping the PA continue to exist along with the contradictions. Better the known devil than the unknown, they reason.
One thing is for sure: the campaign Israel’s Left wages “to separate from the Palestinians” is a pipe dream. A Labor-led government will meet the same dilemmas and act little differently from the present government. The relationship in Judea and Samaria for the foreseeable future is painfully symbiotic.
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