As attacks spread, Israel sees the perfect scapegoat in Abbas

Netanyahu and his ministers would rather point fingers at the PA than at Hamas, the group primarily responsible for terror wave

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.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after delivering a speech at Cooper Union in New York, September 22, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Jason DeCrow)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after delivering a speech at Cooper Union in New York, September 22, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Jason DeCrow)

The debate over whether or not we are in the midst of an intifada will continue in the coming days, it seems. There will be those who claim that we are not dealing with a classic popular uprising since the Palestinian masses are not in the streets, and they are right.

There will also be those who will compare this week to the wave of attacks a year ago, and will claim that the situation isn’t that different.

Then, too, attacks were carried out by lone terrorists: The soldier Tomer Hazan was kidnapped and murdered next to Oranit, Sgt. Gal Kobi was killed by sniper fire in Hebron, and Sariya Ofer was axed to death in the Jordan Valley.

But there is something worse in the general atmosphere today, much more fragile than those difficult months in 2013. Two fatal stabbing attacks in one day, civilians being run over, riots in Jerusalem, an attempted assassination, serious tension on the Temple Mount, and angry demonstrations in Israeli Arab cities. And this is only a partial list of the incidents taking place in Israel over the past few weeks.

There are some important differences between the situation today and that of a year ago. First of all, today there is something populist about the attacks. There are demonstrations in East Jerusalem and inside the Green Line. It’s not on the scale of October 2000, but there are clashes, and it’s not clear when or if they will stop.

And maybe the more important difference is the loss of hope on the two sides. The Palestinians and Israelis have lost faith that a peaceful solution is possible at all. The two leaderships, whose job among other things is to create hope for peace, have thrown up their hands and are not trying at all to reach a political solution.

The Palestinian Authority is focusing its efforts on gaining the support of European states through unilateral moves at the UN, while Israel tries every possible maneuver to avoid negotiations with the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his colleagues, instead of working to properly manage the crisis with the Palestinians and find a way out, are busy preparing for the upcoming elections.

The realization that things are starting to spin out of control, and that the status quo in the West Bank is cracking, could come to mark the beginning of the end of Netanyahu’s time at the Prime Minister’s Office.

For years, Netanyahu sold his opium to the masses. His recipe: Quiet and economic growth, without giving up anything to the Palestinians. And Israelis bought it eagerly. But suddenly, within a few days, an entire country is in a panic. The quiet is dissipating. Simply leaving home, even within the Green Line, doesn’t seem especially safe.

This reality, along with the upcoming elections, has created a scapegoat for the Israeli government. The big Satan himself, the man behind the recent deterioration, from the riots on the Temple Mount to the growing wave of terrorism, is none other than Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Almost instinctively, Netanyahu and his ministers rush to attack Abbas after every terror attack or wave of demonstrations. He, and no one else, is guilty. Uri Ariel, Moshe Ya’alon, and Netanyahu of course, won’t let the facts get in the way, God forbid.

Yes, Abbas did issue some inflammatory, stupid statements, the worst being the condolence letter to the family of the terrorist who shot Yehudah Glick, in which he hailed the would-be assassin as a martyr. But on the ground, senior Israel Defense Forces officers and the heads of the Shin Bet emphasize to the prime minister and defense minister that the PA itself is doing much to foil attacks and in order to prevent a conflagration in the West Bank.

A huge number of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members were arrested in the two months since the end of the fighting in Gaza, in order to prevent a wave of attacks against Israel, among other reasons.

But Netanyahu and his ministers are not interested. For them, Abbas is easy prey, and if he is guilty, then there is no partner, there is no one to speak to, and then there need not be a peace deal and a withdrawal from the West Bank.

But the most absurd aspect of the situation is that the decision-makers are trying to ignore, by whatever means possible, the organization that is primarily responsible for incitement and the deteriorating situation — Hamas.

The Islamist terror organization’s leaders, Khaled Mashaal and Ismail Haniyeh, have openly called for Palestinians in the West Bank to carry out terror attacks and demonstrate in the streets.

But it’s much easier to focus on Abbas and claim that he is to blame for everything.

Another factor not mentioned in the politicians’ speeches is their own actions, and those of leading figures on the right. It is impossible to divorce escalating tensions over the Temple Mount from the overall situation in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and inside of Israel.

Those same figures who ignored the warnings from security officials about the al-Aqsa Mosque, and the dangers associated with it, bear partial responsibility for the serious deterioration we are witnessing.

So how can the current wave of attacks and riots be stopped? It is not necessarily possible, since these are attacks that don’t need infrastructure or preparation. A knife or car is enough to carry out a terrorist murder. Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ya’alon, who feel more pressure than ever during an election year to stop the wave of terror, may resort to populist measures that would only intensify the anger of the residents of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

And what about peace negotiations? That’s so passe. Best to leave it to John Kerry.

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