It’s hard to say that the shooting attacks in Jerusalem’s Neve Yaakov and Silwan neighborhoods over the weekend came as a surprise. Since last Thursday’s IDF operation in the Jenin Refugee Camp, during which nine Palestinians (most of them gunmen) were killed, social media platforms were filled with calls by Palestinian individuals and groups for revenge.The calls for retaliation coincided with the Palestinian Authority’s dramatic announcement on Thursday evening that it was ceasing security coordination with Israel.
The announcement was seen both as an attempt to placate the angry Palestinian public
and invite US and European pressure on Israel.
The announcement contained harsh rhetoric, including allegations that Israel was committing massacres, ethnic cleansing, racial discrimination and assaults on Jerusalem and its Islamic and Christian holy sites
Calls for retaliation
The calls for retaliation, as well as the PA’s fiery rhetoric and decision to halt the security coordination with Israel, sent a message to the Palestinians that something needs to be done to stop the Israeli government from continuing its “daily killings” and “incursions” into Palestinian communities in the West Bank.
Palestinian stone-throwers gather amid clashes with Israeli troops during a raid in Jenin in the West Bank January 26, 2023 (credit: REUTERS/RANEEN SAWAFTA)
Palestinian officials in Ramallah have repeatedly argued that Israeli military operations against gunmen in the West Bank threaten to undermine the Palestinian Authority and possibly bring about its collapse.
In fact, these operations are supposed to strengthen the Palestinian Authority, especially since most of the gunmen are affiliated with its rivals in Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.Even many of the members of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the militia affiliated with President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction, are not known as loyalists to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.
Besides, the Palestinian Authority can only blame itself for failing to take real measures to rein in the gunmen and armed gangs that have popped up in the northern West Bank over the past year. The Palestinian Authority has time and again demonstrated that it is quick to act against its political opponents and critics, while turning a blind eye to armed groups in the refugee camps in Jenin and Balata (near Nablus).
But instead of assuming responsibility for the growing anarchy and lawlessness, Abbas and his associates on Saturday chose again to hold Israel solely responsible for the “dangerous escalation.”
It’s obvious that the PA is both unwilling to, and incapable of, disarming the armed groups or apprehending the gunmen.
Abbas is unwilling to do so because he’s afraid of the reaction of the Palestinian public.
He’s incapable of ordering a major crackdown on the gunmen because such a move would lead to bloodshed and most likely spark a rebellion by Palestinian security officers.
Moreover, such a move would undoubtedly play into the hands of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, allowing them to depict the Palestinian Authority leaders as a bunch of “traitors” and “collaborators.”
Image protection for the Palestinian public
The Ramallah-based leadership is so concerned about its image among the Palestinian public that by Saturday night it hadn’t issued a statement condemning the attacks in Jerusalem.
Longest serving Palestinian prisoner, Karim Younis, gestures as he is welcomed at his village, after he was freed from Israeli jail earlier today, in Ara, Israel January 5, 2023. (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
The 87-year-old Abbas is extremely unpopular among his people, with public opinion polls constantly showing that more than 70% want him to resign. As such, he can’t afford to further alienate the Palestinians.
He’s not going to send his security officers to clash with the gunmen in Jenin and Nablus as long as their activities don’t disrupt his massive diplomatic campaign against Israel in the international arena. Abbas will probably start moving only if he feels that the international community is exerting immense pressure on him.
Abbas is now hoping that the rising tensions and violence would prompt the US, European Union and other international parties to step up the pressure on the Israeli government to de-escalate the situation.
In Ramallah, there’s hope that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank this week could help ease tensions and deter Israel from pursuing its security crackdown.This, however, does not mean that the Palestinian leadership is ready to return to the negotiating table any time in the near future.
Abbas has taken a strategic decision to fight Israel in the international arena, especially through international courts. His diplomatic offensive aims to isolate Israel and increase international pressure on it in order to force it to make far-reaching concessions to the Palestinians.