Earlier this week, Hamas called for a “Day of Rage” on Friday to protest against what it claimed were efforts “to harm al-Aqsa Mosque” in Jerusalem. It is unlikely anybody in Israel’s security establishment was unduly bothered. Hamas has been trying for some time to heat up the West Bank, without much success. But what happened overnight in Duma, south of Nablus, entirely changes the picture.
The despicable murder of 18-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsha, in an attack that also leaves his mother, father and brother fighting for their lives, is likely to shatter the Palestinians’ indifference. The Day of Rage that seemed unlikely to bring thousands into the streets may now become a day of violent confrontation and the start of the escalation Hamas has long been seeking.
Sickeningly, the Jewish terrorists allegedly responsible for the Duma attack are helping an Islamist terror group achieve its goals.
There is, it should be stressed, no guarantee that a widespread Palestinian protest will erupt and be sustained. For years, the Palestinian masses have refrained from joining the Islamists’ efforts at escalation against Israel, for several reasons: a lack of motivation given the scars of the Second Intifada; the desire to find employment and a better quality of life; and deep disappointment in both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
Factors like these produced an indifference in the West Bank that even the murder last summer of East Jerusalem teenager Muhammed Abu Khdeir did not shatter. But there was also another central factor in the relative West Bank calm: The PA leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, the same leadership that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon insist is no partner for peace, has long been working as Israel’s fire department. Time after time, the PA has managed to calm the Palestinian public, even in times of high tension such as during last summer’s 50-day Operation Protective Edge, and to thwart dozens of planned attacks on Israelis.
In the Israeli security establishment, a rare consensus has prevailed among the Shin Bet, the Military Intelligence and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories that Abbas is part of the solution, not the problem. But Israel’s political leadership has refused to accept this, and remained insistent that Abbas was “not a partner.”
The attack in the early hours of Friday was still more grave than the killing of Abu Khdeir. This time, a baby has been killed and three other people are critically injured — an entire family virtually wiped out by alleged Jewish murderers.
Abbas faces an acute dilemma. If he allows widespread demonstrations against Israel, he boosts Hamas and crowns the Day of Rage as a great success for his Islamist rivals. If he tries to prevent a major outburst of protest, he will be portrayed as an Israeli collaborator, and that will damage his standing, at Hamas’s expense, even further.
But whatever now unfolds in the immediate aftermath of the terror attack, it seems certain that revenge attacks will follow — by Hamas and others, against Israelis, in the West Bank and inside Israel.
Abbas is likely to try to stop this escalation. But if he feels that the flames are closing in on him, it would be no surprise were he to follow through on his frequent threats to end PA security cooperation with Israel, and/or to announce his resignation.