Israel's new gov't braces for Palestinian escalation - opinion

Frequent violent clashes occur regularly between the IDF and Palestinian terrorists, as well as between Israeli civilians living in the West Bank and Palestinian civilians.

 PA HEAD Mahmoud Abbas addresses the annual opening of the UN General Assembly, in September. Abbas has described the new Israeli government as a ‘gang of murderers.’ (photo credit: CAITLIN OCHS/REUTERS)
PA HEAD Mahmoud Abbas addresses the annual opening of the UN General Assembly, in September. Abbas has described the new Israeli government as a ‘gang of murderers.’
(photo credit: CAITLIN OCHS/REUTERS)

With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forming his new government, the Palestinian Authority has little to no expectation that the diplomatic process with Israel will be resumed in the near future. Since Netanyahu’s victory in the November 1 election, Palestinian rhetoric toward Israel has been radical and antagonistic.

From the Palestinian perspective, the new Netanyahu government with its overtly right-wing coalition partners places a breakthrough with Israel in the realm of the impossible. In late December, the Fatah Revolutionary Council led by Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas described the incoming government as “a gang of murderers who will prove beyond question that Israel is an apartheid state.”

The council added that the government’s planned agenda for the future of the West Bank will trigger a major explosion if the international community does not intervene “and prevent Israel from realizing its bloody ambitions.” The council also endorsed Palestinian resistance measures, noting that these should be conducted in accordance with international law.

Abbas addressed the council meeting in Ramallah and offered his pessimistic outlook. Radical figures have risen to power in Israel, he said, obligating Palestinians to oppose the fascist new government.

Of the many, potentially unacceptable decisions, from the Palestinian perspective, that are likely to be made by Israel, legalizing outposts in the West Bank and paving new byroads for settlers are some of the most immediate concerns. The PA states such moves will make a future Palestinian independent state essentially unattainable.

 Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his new book, ''Bibi: My Story'' (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his new book, ''Bibi: My Story'' (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Netanyahu will act responsibly, but the Palestinian arena is volatile

Netanyahu is clearly aware of these worries, which exist not only on the Palestinian side but also among pragmatic Sunni Arab states, including the Gulf States that are now in open partnership with Israel under the Abraham Accords.

Jordan, Egypt, the Gulf States, the United States administration, and European Union members have all recently declared their unwavering support for the goal of an independent Palestinian state.

As a result of these pressures, Netanyahu will likely act as a responsible adult and support a balanced, pragmatic approach toward the Palestinians while reigning in his government’s more radical elements. In addition, Netanyahu’s stated goal of broadening the normalization circle to include Saudi Arabia will depend on the adoption of such a pragmatic approach.

In the meantime, the Palestinian arena is volatile, with escalating security incidents reaching near-boiling points. The determination of terrorist organizations and individuals operating outside of organized frameworks to conduct attacks against Israeli targets is currently sky-high, as is planning for the execution of such attacks.

The significant spike in tensions and security incidents in the West Bank, the continued protests by Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails, particularly around the issue of administrative detention, combined with growing fears about the Israeli government’s capacity to manage radical ideological elements within its ranks could set the stage for a third intifada.

EARLY SIGNS of such a scenario are already visible. Frequent violent clashes occur regularly between the IDF and Palestinian terrorists, as well as between Israeli civilians living in the West Bank and Palestinian civilians.

Attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians by Palestinian gunmen who have a clear organizational affiliation, as well as those with no such affiliation, have risen starkly this past year. Clashes are also taking place in known flashpoints between the IDF and Palestinian rioters, as well as between Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

Meanwhile, there have been numerous incidents of firebombings, rock throwing, and the planting of explosives by terrorists along West Bank roads and at other flashpoints in the territory. According to figures from various sources, some 170 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with the IDF since the start of the year, with most of them, although not all, involving armed combatants and terrorists.

As a result, the PA leadership is attempting to take advantage of the large number of Palestinian casualties in order to destroy Israel’s credibility, undermine its worldwide reputation and rally the international community against the incoming Netanyahu government.

Abbas voiced this escalatory and adversarial strategy in his comments to the Fatah Revolutionary Council when he vowed that the PA would expand political and popular protests, though he did not go into details regarding what those protests would look like.

Abbas has long-held a dual approach to the issue of Palestinian violence, condemning armed terror attacks on Israelis in the past but also supporting all recent terrorists, irrespective of whether they opened fire, stabbed or threw explosives at Israelis.

It is worth noting that in a recent media interview, Abbas stated that he had previously opposed armed conflict with Israel but warned that his opinion could change in light of Israel’s behavior. Such comments reflect the stress and frustration that Abbas and the PA are currently experiencing. Nevertheless, security coordination between Israel and the PA is continuing at this stage.

Under these circumstances, Palestinians continue to stand still, failing to move toward any of their political and strategic objectives. Meanwhile, against the backdrop of increased tensions and violence in the West Bank, the relative calm in Gaza stands in stark contrast.

From its vantage point in Gaza, Hamas will keep a close eye on events at sensitive ignition points, particularly the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and on the escalating situation in the West Bank, searching for new ways to boost its foothold there.

Hamas is exploiting the current escalation, planning its next moves and marketing itself as the future leadership of the entire Palestinian people in place of the PA and Fatah.

In light of this, PA security forces have begun a campaign of arrests of Hamas operatives and it is fair to assume that Israeli intelligence is enabling some of these arrests.

Under these conditions, Israel must project the message that the political process has not been removed from the table, as part of an effort to prevent escalatory patterns that could quickly spin out of control.

The writer, an IDF colonel (ret.), is a publishing expert at The MirYam Institute. He served for 30 years in various intelligence and political-strategic positions in the IDF, including eight years in the Gaza Strip as an adviser for Arab affairs to successive commanders of the Southern Command and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.