Abbas's gamble

In the best case, rioting in the W. Bank could gain the attention of the US and Europe, but it could also deteriorate into a third intifada.

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)
The unfortunate death of Arafat Jaradat, a Palestinian arrested last week for throwing rocks at Israeli cars, has triggered violence in flashpoints around the West Bank.
An autopsy performed by the Health Ministry found that Jaradat died on Saturday of heart failure and that signs of violence on his body, including broken ribs, were from resuscitation attempts.
But the Palestinian Authority, in an apparent attempt to escalate tensions, declared that Jaradat had been tortured to death at Megiddo Prison, where he was being held.
Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade, a Fatah-linked terrorist group, vowed to avenge Jaradat’s death, which has become another source of rage for Palestinians already demonstrating in solidarity with four hunger-striking security prisoners and in particular against Israel’s decision to rearrest two terrorists who had been released in the October 2011 Gilad Schalit prisoner swap. Kadoura Fares, a former PA minister and the head of the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club, warned of a third intifada.
The present unrest coincides with the 19th anniversary of Baruch Goldstein’s despicable murder of 29 Muslim worshipers and wounding of 125 more on Purim day 1994 during a mosque prayer at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Nearly every Purim since has been marred by Palestinian terrorist attacks, demonstrations and unrest. The stage is set for an explosive situation.
And PA President Mahmoud Abbas might be interested in escalating violence ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit to the region. Scenes of rioting in Palestinian towns across the West Bank on the eve of the US president’s arrival might push the Palestinian issue back on the top of the White House’s agenda for the region. For some time, the bloody civil war in Syria, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Iran’s push for nuclear weapons have eclipsed the Palestinian cause.
Abbas has rightly perceived that the relative calm in the West Bank – thanks in large part to strong security coordination between Israel and the PA – has made the US, the Europeans and many Israelis complacent about the need for peace talks.
Still, Abbas must realize the danger of fanning the flames of violence. If the riots, which so far have been mostly restricted to smaller villages around Hebron, does indeed spread to cities such as Ramallah and Nablus and greater numbers of Palestinians take to the street, the situation could deteriorate into a third intifada.
There are more radical elements within Fatah which would like to see this happen as a means of usurping Abbas’s power.
Though there is little Abbas can do to stop the riots, he could rein in the Fatah leaders who are encouraging escalation.
Meanwhile, our security forces, which have been tasked with containing the violence and preventing demonstrators from blocking major roads, must also avoid using extreme force and refrain from unnecessary confrontations.
Perhaps the unrest on the West Bank will temporarily push the Palestinian issue higher up on the foreign policy agendas of the Americans and the Europeans. But the real obstacles to peace remain unchanged.
Palestinian leadership remains divided between Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Fatah in the West Bank.
Neither can claim to represent the entire Palestinian people. Further weakening the legitimacy of Palestinian political leadership is the fact that no democratic elections have been held since 2006.
The elections that were supposed to take place in 2009 have repeatedly been delayed. Abbas, whose term has expired, has no mandate from his people to make concessions to Israel and Hamas would never dream of making concessions.
Placing the Palestinian issue back on the Western world’s agenda by instigating violence on the West Bank might change perceptions but will not change the underlying causes of the stalled peace process.
In the best scenario from Abbas’s point of view, limited rioting could get the US and Europe to renew pressure on Israel. But if he plays his hand wrong and the unrest deteriorates into a third intifada, Abbas could lose control of the situation, lose the presidency and ruin any chances for peace for years to come.