Demise of the Palestinian Authority is only a matter of time

The fact that hundreds of Palestinians are willing to die in order to kill Jews can’t be fully explained by either Abbas’s narrative (occupation) or Netanyahu’s (incitement)

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.

File: This photo, shared on Twitter, says, "This is the way, the al-Aqsa Intifada (Twitter)
File: This photo, shared on Twitter, says, "This is the way, the al-Aqsa Intifada (Twitter)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas tried this week to explain the motives behind the unprecedented phenomenon — referred to by many as the “third intifada” — that we have been witnessing over the past two and a half months.

To date, more than 130 terrorists have taken part in attacks or attempted attacks against Israeli targets. If you add the number of terrorists who have carried out attacks to those who were arrested preemptively by the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli security services, you get to a quick estimate of around 200-250 Palestinians who were ready to die in order to kill Jews — in the short period of 75 days.

So, a rough average of around three terrorists a day — a figure that is both unimaginable and deeply dangerous. Abbas has claimed that despair about the Israeli occupation and the dashed prospects of a two-state solution brought these youngsters to do what they did; Israel blames incitement.

File: Mahmoud Abbas speaks with journalists at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah on October 6, 2015. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)
Mahmoud Abbas blames Israel’s occupation of the West Bank for the violence of recent weeks. Seen here in his Ramallah office, October 6, 2015. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

Prime Minister Netanyahu this week rushed to attack Abbas and quoted surveys carried out in the West Bank that show the Palestinian public’s opposition to a two-state solution. He did not note that the Palestinian Authority itself prevents attacks of all kinds against Israelis almost every day.

The problem is that neither Abbas’s explanation (“the occupation”) nor Netanyahu’s (“the incitement”) fully sheds light on this sick phenomenon. It may also be that through our Western eyes, we can never really understand how hundreds of youngsters are willing to die without a second thought in order to stab Israelis.

Taha Katnani, the father of Ashrakat, a 16-year-old terrorist who last month tried to stab Jewish passersby at the Hawara checkpoint near Nablus (she was run over by Gershon Mesika, who was passing by chance, and then shot dead by security forces), is a known figure in the Islamic Jihad terror group. In recent years, he’s been the imam of one of the mosques in the Askar refugee camp on the outskirts of Nablus.

The Hawara checkpoint, south of the West Bank city of Nablus, has a been a flashpoint for Palestinian violence. October 11, 2015. Photo by FLASH90
The Hawara checkpoint, south of the West Bank city of Nablus, has a been a flash point for Palestinian violence. October 11, 2015. Photo by FLASH90

In an interview with a Palestinian TV station identified with Islamic Jihad, he said that his daughter had told him before she died that in the event she was killed (“martyred”), “if the occupiers try to barter with my body, don’t agree to it.”

He went on to describe a subsequent meeting he had with Israeli security officials at Hawara. “They tried to understand if there had been a crisis, if she had been in a crisis, or I had, or [aunt] Yassin… In other words, they tried to understand the motive.”

“But the occupiers don’t understand,” the father added, tearfully. “They’re deluded. Ashrakat lived in her home, with a high standard of living, doing what she wanted. Whoever knows us — everyone knows the warm relations between myself and my children. Everyone is moved when they see my approach and my relationship with them,” he added. In short, Ashrakat presumably grew up in a home and an environment profoundly hostile to Israel, but did not have family or psychological problems.

Many commentators had warned of a blow-up but none of them predicted the way this “third intifada” would develop. Certainly not the Israeli political echelon, which continues to exist in its bubble, waiting for the storm to pass… and it is refusing to pass. The withholding of terrorists’ bodies, and the threat to destroy their families’ homes, are supposed to prevent the next terror attack. But these techniques don’t stand up to the reality test.

Palestinians inspecting the home of Mohammed Abu Shahin, demolished by Israeli troops in the Qalandia refugee camp, near Ramallah, on November 16, 2015. Shahin was accused of killing an Israeli hiker in June 2015. (Photo by Flash90)
The home of Mohammed Abu Shahin, demolished by Israeli troops in the Qalandiya refugee camp, near Ramallah, on November 16, 2015. Shahin was accused of killing an Israeli hiker in June 2015. (Photo by Flash90)

The flood of attacks isn’t letting up for a moment. It’s emphatically not always related to family crises, or to what emerges as a psychological problem. It is at least partly an expression of despair and frustration, as Abbas said, but it also relates to the Palestinian Authority and all the Palestinian factions and even to the older generation in general, which has disappointed the younger generation.

A large majority of the attackers have not belonged to any kind of organization, were not known to the security services, and had not received an order to carry out their attack.

Most of these young people come from the Palestinian cities, some are more religious and some less, most are single. They are not simply fed incitement from the social networks and certainly not only from the Palestinian Authority’s official media networks. They also get their hatred almost intravenously, in the internet cafes, the mosques, the billiard clubs, from the family — in almost every place.

And for such a phenomenon, it’s difficult to find one single convincing explanation — or a solution that will stop the epidemic.

On the Israeli side, there is no credible plan for calming the tensions. During a meeting between senior Israeli and Palestinian security personnel, the Palestinians demanded a “political road map” that they argued would bring about calm on the streets. The Israelis demanded that the PA first stop the violence.

Dramatic political moves may be essential to achieve long-term calm. But what are the Palestinians demanding within the framework of a “road map” ahead? A freeze in settlement building and an agreement in principle to negotiate on the basis of creating a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. These are unrealistic in light of the current coalition makeup in Israel and the policy of the person at its head. It’s an impasse: The Palestinian Authority isn’t capable of calming the street without dramatic political steps that Israel has no intention of taking.

What does this say for the PA and Abbas? That in all likelihood, they’re living on borrowed time. Or, as a senior figure from the Authority said in his office in Ramallah, “The game is over.” Does this mean the dismantling or crumbling of the PA in the near future? It seems so.

Security cooperation is wearing thinner with each passing day — after each Palestinian terror attack, and each Israeli security operation in the field (such as the operation Tuesday night in the village of Qalandiya, during which Israeli forces looking for terrorists killed two Palestinians who, in separate incidents, tried to ram their cars into Israeli soldiers). It’s like a countdown whose end is hard to predict but which will clearly stop at some point. Thus the demise of the PA is a question of when, not if.

On the Palestinian side, too, there are also no real plans.

There has been much talk over recent weeks about the PLO committee that is supposed to convene to discuss halting security and economic coordination with Israel. Will Abbas gather the PLO leadership by the end of the year and lead it to a dramatic about-face decision on relations with Israel or security cooperation? In the run up to the next Fatah Day on January 1, senior figures from the movement will doubtless try to take a step of one kind or another to bring Fatah and the Palestinian agenda back to the global forefront.

Saeb Erekat, Secretary General of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), speaks during an interview with AFP at his office in Ramallah on November 23, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI / AFP / ABBAS MOMANI)
Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), pictured in Ramallah on November 23, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI / AFP / ABBAS MOMANI)

Saeb Erekat, general secretary of the PLO, has been scattering threats right and left over recent days, talking repeatedly about canceling the recognition of Israel and the Oslo Accords.

It’s not clear whether this will happen. But it has to be said that not a few of Erekat’s unsuccessful recommendations over the past year — e.g., joining the International Criminal Court in The Hague last year, on the anniversary of Fatah’s founding — were warmly received by the president.

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