Analysis: Abbas caught between hammer and anvil

Some Palestinians believe the PA is interested in escalating tensions with Israel for various reasons.

Abbas at PLO meeting in West Bank 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokma)
Abbas at PLO meeting in West Bank 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokma)
Does the current wave of violence in east Jerusalem and the West Bank serve the Palestinian Authority’s interests? Or do the widespread protests, which are being described by some Palestinians as a “mini-intifada,” undermine its status? Some Palestinians believe that the PA leadership is interested in escalating tensions with Israel for various reasons.
The PA leadership, they say, wants to put the Palestinian issue back at the top of the international community’s list of priorities. As such, scenes of daily clashes between Palestinian protesters and IDF soldiers and settlers would shift the world’s attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The feeling in the PA leadership is that the Americans and Europeans have long lost interest in the Palestinian issue, especially in the wake of the Arab Spring and the Iranian nuclear threat.
The PA leadership does not like the fact that the whole world seems to be preoccupied with current events in Syria and other Arab countries, as well as talk about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
That’s why some PA officials have been encouraging the daily protests in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, arguing that this is the only way to win back the world’s attention.
These officials believe that a mini-intifada could also serve the Palestinians’ interests ahead of US President Barack Obama’s planned visit to the region next month.
They are hoping that the violence would prompt Obama to exert pressure on the Israeli government to accept at least some of the PA leadership’s demands, first and foremost a full freeze of settlement construction and the release of a significant number of Palestinians from Israeli prisons.
The officials who are in favor of a mini-intifada are joined by many disgruntled Fatah leaders and members who would like to see an allout confrontation with Israel, mainly because of their dissatisfaction with the way Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA leadership are handling matters.
Many in Fatah see the violence as a means to undermine Abbas and the old-guard leadership in Ramallah.
That’s precisely why Abbas and most of his top aides are opposed to a third intifada. Instead, they are talking about the need for a nonviolent “popular resistance” – one that would put heavy pressure on Israel and win the sympathy of the international community.
Abbas’s main concern is that an all-out confrontation with Israel, where Palestinians resort once again to suicide bombings and other terror attacks, would cause more damage to the Palestinian issue.
Moreover, Abbas is also worried that a serious deterioration would undermine his authority and provide Israel with an excuse to step up its punitive measures against his authority in particular, and the Palestinians in general.
The latest upsurge in violence seems to have placed Abbas between the Israeli hammer and the Palestinian anvil. On the one hand, he seems to be afraid of Israel’s harsh response. On the other, there is not much that he could do to stop Palestinians from taking to the streets to voice solidarity with Palestinian prisoners.