At UN, Abbas lobs threats at US and Israel — but reserves true ire for Hamas
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Analysis

At UN, Abbas lobs threats at US and Israel — but reserves true ire for Hamas

PA leader’s harshest statements were directed at Gaza’s terrorist rulers. He now appears poised to turn those words into actions, and Jerusalem could be hit by the ricochets

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 addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters, Thursday, September 27, 2018 (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters, Thursday, September 27, 2018 (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech at the UN General Assembly did not contain any big surprises. His comments were predictable — attacks on Israel and the United States, and threats (once again) to reconsider agreements with Israel.

But the most aggressive message was reserved for the leaders of Hamas and residents of the Gaza Strip under the terror group’s rule.

Abbas’s speech contained an explicit threat to “remove all responsibility” from Gaza if Hamas does not agree to reach a deal with the Palestinian Authority. In other words, he intends to stop transferring PA funds to Gaza in the near future.

Clearly getting the message, some Gazans, shortly after Abbas’s address ended, gathered to protest his remarks in the city of Rafah in an event backed by Hamas, with masked men holding signs reading, “Abbas doesn’t represent me.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 73rd session of the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York September 27, 2018. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP)

Abbas’s speech and the Hamas-organized protest which followed it are a further reminder of how deep the rift is between Hamas and the PA, with the latter prepared to disconnect from the Strip and stop transferring the $96 million it spends there every month.

Meanwhile, steps are being taken on the ground: Hamas has been arresting Fatah activists in Gaza, while the PA has embarked on one of its largest ever arrest campaigns of Hamas operatives in the West Bank. According to the terror group, PA security forces have nabbed more than 60 Hamas members throughout the West Bank in just over 24 hours, including freed prisoners.

The spiraling tension between the two movements and a potential halting of funds to Gaza could quite easily lead to a significant escalation in fighting between Israel and Hamas in the south: It is unlikely that Hamas, dealing with the most severe financial crisis in its history, will quietly swallow the bitter pill being prepared for it by Abbas, which will significantly aggravate the economic and humanitarian situation in the Strip.

Hamas is encouraging the protests against Abbas, but it also understands that Gaza residents’ frustration and bitterness is not reserved only for the PA or Israel. Blame is also being directed its way. Military escalation could serve to channel public fury towards Israel instead.

A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot as others stand by a burning tire and wave a national flag during a demonstration along the border fence east of Gaza City on September 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Said KHATIB)

Meanwhile Abbas’s disconnect with Israel and the US continues. Even if for a moment Trump’s statements on Wednesday in support of the two-state solution rekindled international discourse on the issue, the US president’s half-hearted endorsement is not likely to effect much change in relations with the Palestinians.

And so Abbas, advancing in age and not looking his best at the UN, is planning moves that will cause major headaches for Israel in Gaza. He may have repeated in his address that he does not want violence or armed struggle in the West Bank, but it seems he would not mind seeing Hamas and Israel clash for the umpteenth time to the south.

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