Deadly Friday attack shows W. Bank heating up, as Hamas senses Israeli weakness
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AnalysisAs Rina Shnerb killed, widespread terror and violence loom

Deadly Friday attack shows W. Bank heating up, as Hamas senses Israeli weakness

Netanyahu government is perceived to be trying to pay off Hamas in return for calm in Gaza, and that’s emboldening the terrorists in the West Bank too

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.

Illustrative: Palestinians hold Hamas flags and chant slogans during a celebration organized by Hamas in the West Bank city of Nablus, on Friday, August 29, 2014 (AP/Nasser Ishtayeh)
Illustrative: Palestinians hold Hamas flags and chant slogans during a celebration organized by Hamas in the West Bank city of Nablus, on Friday, August 29, 2014 (AP/Nasser Ishtayeh)

The terrorist attack at a spring near Dolev on Friday, in which Rina Shnerb was killed and her father and brother were injured, was far from a bolt from the blue given the current atmosphere among Palestinians in the West Bank. And there are growing concerns that things could get far worse.

As so often in the past, the initial reaction from some in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government focused on the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, blamed as the inciter of terrorism. Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, for instance, called for the dismantling of the PA and Israeli annexation of the West Bank, neglecting to mention that the PA has been working in coordination with the IDF to try to thwart terror attacks.

The ferment among West Bank Palestinians, the growing calls for violence and the escalation in terrorism are being stirred from Gaza by its ruling terror group, Hamas, in its ongoing face-off with Netanyahu. What Netanyahu’s bitter critic and former defense minister Avigdor Liberman described Friday as the prime minister’s “surrender” to the terrorists — his agreement to allow Qatar to distribute funds in Gaza to needy families (and in the past to Hamas employees), the easing of certain restrictions at border crossings, the improved electricity supply — amid intermittent rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, is seen on the Palestinian side as proof of weakness. Weakness to be exploited.

Mourners carry the body of 17-year-old Israeli Rina Shnerb, who was killed by a bomb in a terror attack while visiting a spring near Dolev in the West Bank, during her funeral in the city of Lod on August 23, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP); inset: Rina Shnerb (Courtesy)

Israel is understood to be capitulating to Hamas demands, more than in the past, precisely when the level of violence is rising — with the rocket attacks, attempts by armed infiltrators to breach the Gaza border fence, violent demonstrations at the border and more. The Israeli government, including Minister Smotrich of course, is seen to be following a policy of seeking to pay off Hamas in return for relative calm. This is being internalized in the West Bank too, which means not only that more terrorism seems likely, but that the West Bank is generally in greater ferment, with Fatah activists also perceiving an Israeli capitulation.

The rising tension also comes after six months during which the PA — fuming that Israel was holding back part of the tax funds it collects on behalf of Ramallah, to compensate for the PA’s payments to the families of dead terrorists and to jailed terrorists and security prisoners — refused to accept any of the tax payments at all. That meant some 160,000 employees were receiving only half their salaries. This week, the PA announced that it had accepted a partial payment, of just over half a billion dollars, after reaching an agreement with Israel on the issue, in order to avert the collapse of the PA.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, meets Hamas deputy chief, Saleh al-Arouri, second right, and the Hamas delegation, in Tehran, Iran, July 22, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

The reduced salaries are only one factor behind the rising tensions in the West Bank. There is also the diplomatic crisis between the US and Israel on one side, and the Palestinians on the other. Even as Israel celebrates the pro-Israel declarations of the Trump administration and the growth of settlements, such moves prompt rising antipathy, and calls for violence, on the Palestinian side, including within Abbas’s Fatah faction. There are indications that we could be near to an eruption of terrorism and/or widespread protests akin to the start of the second intifada in 2000 or the so-called “stabbing intifada” in the fall of 2015.

Needless to say, Hamas is doing its utmost to exploit the bitterness in the West Bank. The Gaza leadership (even as it negotiates indirectly with Israel), and the leadership overseas headed by Saleh al-Arouri, are working relentlessly to orchestrate terror attacks in the West Bank. Most are being thwarted. But, as we saw on Friday, not all.

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