If Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas mean it when they say they don’t want to see a third intifada, why does it look like that is exactly where they are headed? Each leader accuses the other of incitement, and not without good cause. Their protestations of purity and innocence as the injured party would be a joke if so many people weren’t being killed and wounded on both sides.
Israel’s national police commissioner, Yohanan Danino, blamed the violence on “incitement by extremists from all sides.”
It’s not just the extremists, though they are doing plenty, but the two national leaders are out front. They’re getting a lot of echoes from their followers.
Who started it? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The latest round of violence began last spring with the murder of three Israeli youths by Palestinians and the revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists.
That contributed to the summer’s Gaza war, Operation Protective Edge.
Even before the war Hamas called for an uprising by West Bank Arabs, but no one listened.
By that time the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks had collapsed in a cloud of mutual recrimination and finger pointing. The chief US envoy to the talks put the bulk of the blame on Netanyahu’s aggressive settlements policies.
Abbas took that ball and ran with it, threatening to file war crimes charges against Israel in the World Court, calling its settlement construction “an act of war.” He also called the Gaza conflict a “war of genocide” waged by Israel, comments the State Department called “offensive” and “provocative.” Abbas’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, called Netanyahu a “filthy war criminal.”
Similarly, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called Abbas a “Jew-hater who believes and promotes terror.” Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, the Israeli Ted Cruz, called him a “terrorist” and demanded a military offensive in Jerusalem to root out “the terrorists in their beds at 3 a.m.”
Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef accused Jewish extremists of “pouring oil on the flames” of Arab “hatred.”
Abbas accused Jews of “contaminating” the Temple Mount and he wants them all banned from the site “by any means possible.”
With no evidence, Abbas accused Israel of trying to change the status quo on Temple Mount, and called for demonstrations to “protect” al Aksa mosque by “any means” to keep out Jewish “settlers.” He ignored Netanyahu’s repeated statements Israel is “fully committed” to maintaining the religious status quo, “which means Jews can’t go there to pray.”
His Palestinian Authority even told the international media to stop using the term “Temple Mount.” The only acceptable term is Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), he said, because the plateau is “an internationally recognized part of the Occupied State of Palestine” and Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem is invalid.
It is part of the Palestinian campaign to delegitimize Israel, starting with denying its ties to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism for 3,000 years. Just as active on the delegitimization front are those Jews in Israel – and here – who insist there is no such thing as the “Palestinian people.”
Abbas has defined Jewish history in Jerusalem as a “delusional myth,” and referred to the “alleged Temple,” according to Palestine Media Watch. An Arab Knesset member from the Balad party told a protest rally this weekend, “The [Jewish] temple is a myth and nothing more.” There are few things Abbas could have said to arouse greater Israeli anger and convince most Israelis, including what is left of the peace camp, that he is not serious about making peace.
Netanyahu is justified in calling such statements “incitement,” but he doesn’t stop at these egregious examples; he seems to apply it to every utterance of the PLO leader, even as his own inflammatory rhetoric keeps ratcheting upward against the advice of many of his political and security advisors.
The prime minister holds Abbas responsible for every act of Arab violence, but rejects responsibility for similar acts of Jewish violence.
His latest move is to raze the homes and revoke the citizenship of “everyone who demonstrates against Israel and in favor of the Palestinian state.” By that definition a lot of Jews could be driven out as well, unless his policy only applies to Arabs. So far there have been no similar threats against Jewish terrorists.
Hamas celebrates the friction between Netanyahu and Abbas and tries to stir things up by calling for marches to “protect” al Aksa from the “Zionist siege.”
Adding his voice from his Israeli prison cell was Marwan Barghouti, arguably the most popular West Bank Palestinian politician, who called for armed resistance as “the only way to remove the occupation.”
Both leaders are too quick to blame the other for inciting the violence while turning a blind eye to the perpetrators on their own side of the barricades. Incitement is a two-way street that is well traveled in both directions by two leaders who seem to prefer lighting fires to putting them out.
The campaign to delegitimize Israel and deny Jewish ties to Jerusalem only strengthens the case for the Israeli Right’s opposition to Palestinian statehood.
From the Palestinian perspective, contributing factors include frustration with lack of progress toward peace and statehood, expanding encroachment of Israel on Palestinian land, accelerated settlement construction, heated rhetoric from Israeli leaders, economic hardship, and a feeling there is no hope.
But does that mean they’re ready for a Third Intifada? Not necessarily.
Khalil Shikaki, a Palestinian political scientist and pollster, told The New York Times he does not see the current conditions escalating to an uprising. The ground is “fertile,” he said; all it needs is “a major spark.”
A senior IDF officer in the West Bank told Ben Caspit of Al-Monitor that conditions exist for another intifada but “we aren’t there yet. Currently there is no organized terror infrastructure in the territories.” But that could change if there is a “severe incident” on the Temple Mount or at a mosque, or, conversely, a brutal attack on Israelis, he said.
Will leaders on both sides allow Tuesday’s synagogue attack in Jerusalem to become that “spark?” Abbas condemned the attack, Hamas cheered it and Netanyahu threatened to respond with a “heavy hand.”
Any fool can start a war, but it takes strong leadership to prevent one. Netanyahu and Abbas find themselves as the proverbial political bedfellows. If they stand up to the extremists in their own camps they could lose their jobs. So they keep pointing the finger of blame at each other and escalating their rhetoric. Feeding the beast is the least dangerous course, for them – but possibly the most dangerous for the people whose interests they claim to serve.