A ‘personal intifada,’ not a mass uprising

Op-Ed: Abbas speech to the UN, to put it politely, doesn’t interest the latest killers. They’re stirred up by relentless Arab media reports of the ‘harming’ of Al-Aqsa

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

The wave of terror attacks of recent days is unlikely to end any time soon. The “success” of the assailants — those who murdered the Henkins, and those who stabbed Nehemia Lavi and Aharon Banita to death, and injured other Israelis — will likely inspire more Palestinian youths to carry out more attacks.

These Palestinians, in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, have two principal motivations: Firstly, frustration at the political, economic and social situation in the territories; secondly, what they define as the harming of the Al-Aqsa mosque. Despite the instinctive response of several government ministers, and the prime minister, to blame incitement by the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas for the escalation, that doesn’t reflect the reality. Last Wednesday’s speech by Abbas to the UN, to put it politely, doesn’t interest these youths. On the day of the speech, Palestinian youths in Ramallah refugee camps with whom I was talking, didn’t even know it was taking place. On every Arab TV station and especially on social media, these youths watch reports from the Temple Mount and what are described as “Israeli attacks on Al Aqsa,” and that’s what stirs them up.

Nonetheless, the headlines in numerous Hebrew newspapers and media channels Sunday morning were hasty and panic-stoking. We are in the midst of a wave of attacks that could certainly intensify, but do not constitute a popular uprising. Most of the Palestinian public is not part of the current escalation and does not want an intifada. There is a minority among the Palestinians carrying out attacks — some lone wolves, and some, like the gunmen who killed the Henkins, possibly more formally organized. They want to attack Jews at whatever personal risk.

One Palestinian analyst has given an accurate description of this reality: A Personal Intifada.

A more significant threat to Israel would be if the masses take to the streets to confront Israel. That is not happening, in part because of actions of the Palestinian Authority. We have been through waves of terror in the past, some worse than the current wave, and apparently we will face more in the future. These attacks cannot be completely prevented, but steps can certainly be taken to maintain relative calm. And amid this current escalation, the fact is that despite Abbas’s provocative speech, and his threat to cancel the Oslo Accords, the PA is maintaining its security coordination with Israel. This is confirmed by Israeli and Palestinian security officials. The PA and Abbas are not tearing everything up.

Abbas’s problem is that some leading Fatah officials, worried for their futures ahead of elections to the PLO’s Executive Committee, have been irresponsibly praising the murderers of Israelis. Abbas himself has refrained as of this writing from condemning the killings, in part because of his political weakness and the fact that the Palestinian public accuses him of collaboration with Israel. No solution to this problem is in sight either, though it could be that if Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were to meet — as they were planning to, until the Americans pressed for a cancellation — this could yield a certain calming of the situation rather than further escalation.

And maybe this needs to be said: We are paying a price for the Israeli government’s decision to seek to manage the conflict rather than solve it. A result of the status quo. That is not to say that there wouldn’t be terror attacks if Israel and the Palestinians were negotiating. In fact, there likely would be. But the decision not to advance along the diplomatic path with the Palestinians carries a price.

One final point: According to top Palestinian media reports, the suspects who are being held for the killing of the Henkins are affiliated with Hamas. If and when it becomes clear that Hamas was indeed behind those killings, how will the Israeli government act? If it turns out that the funders and the orchestrators are in Gaza or Qatar, will the government attack targets in Doha or kill Hamas leaders in Gaza? Or will it, more likely, again hold Abbas responsible.

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