Palestinian incitement or deeper malaise? Depends which Israeli official you ask
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Analysis

Palestinian incitement or deeper malaise? Depends which Israeli official you ask

While Prime Minister Netanyahu has pinned the current round of violence on hateful rhetoric, Israel’s security establishment paints a more complex picture

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Palestinian protesters hurling stones clash with Israeli troops (not seen) during riots by the Jewish settlement of Bet El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, October 10, 2015 (Flash90)
Palestinian protesters hurling stones clash with Israeli troops (not seen) during riots by the Jewish settlement of Bet El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, October 10, 2015 (Flash90)

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has highlighted “incitement” as the main cause for the surge in Palestinian terror and violence in Israel and the West Bank, senior Israeli security officials, intimately acquainted with the Palestinian scene, are painting a more complex picture, one that is sometimes outright contradictory to that of the prime minister.

In numerous recent speeches, Netanyhau has singled out Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a primary source of incitement. On Sunday, he accused Arab MK Hanin Zoabi of the same crime, as well as the Islamic Movement in Israel.

But the Israeli security officials, who have been making their position clear to Israeli journalists in recent days, identify a host of reasons for the Palestinian violence — the perceived danger to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem being only one of them, and perhaps just a symptom of a deeper malaise.

A young Palestinian generation, which did not experience the terrible cost of the Second Intifada, they argue, has come of age with no hope for a better future. Nearly all the perpetrators of this week’s attacks against Jews are under 20 years old, and can barely remember the Second Intifada, which erupted in September 2000 and all but died down by 2004. This generation is alienated from the Palestinian Authority, which has been unable to realize any of the national Palestinian goals, including statehood and the release of prisoners, the officials said.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the United Nations General Assembly, September 30, 2015 (AP/Mary Altaffer)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the United Nations General Assembly, September 30, 2015 (AP/Mary Altaffer)

Far from ordering violence, in his recent speech at the UN Abbas expressed a sense of desperation and frustration with Israel, which his public has picked up on. Some of Fatah’s regional leaders have understood the speech as allowing a freer hand in “popular resistance,” and describe Abbas’s loosening grip on his movement as he prepares for retirement.

Not only does Abbas not wish for escalation of the violence, the officials said, he has carried out a series of measures to make sure such escalation does not occur: he has called hardliners within his movement, who have voiced inflammatory statements in recent days, to order; he has ordered official Palestinian media to tone down its rhetoric; he has arrested violent elements in the West Bank, including Hamas protesters in Tulkarem.

Security coordination with Israel continues unabated, the officials stress, and Abbas has funneled millions of shekels to West Bank universities in order to prevent a strike that would leave hundreds of students on the street. Plainclothes Palestinian security personnel make sure that no live ammunition is fired from within Fatah-led demonstrations.

Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh arrives to Liberation Youths summer camp, organised by the Hamas movement, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, August 1, 2015 Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90
Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh arrives at Liberation Youths summer camp, organized by the Hamas movement, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, August 1, 2015 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The continuous tug of war between Fatah and Hamas must also not be forgotten in analyzing the current peak in violence, the officials argued. Hamas has long called for a popular uprising in the West Bank to challenge Abbas’s previous agenda of negotiations and current unilateral international moves against Israel. As of today, that call seems to be gaining ground.

But the West Bank leadership refuses to let Hamas gain the upper hand. Not only does it continue to arrest and oppress Islamist operatives in the West Bank, but Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Sunday met with the governors of the northern and central Gaza Strip, promising to prioritize construction efforts following last year’s war with Israel. “Gaza is an inseparable part of the future Palestinian state,” Hamdallah was quoted by Ma’an news agency as saying, for those who doubted it.

Whether the current surge in attacks lasts weeks or months, the Israeli officials seemed bleakly confident that if Israel does not offer Abbas significant “carrots” in the near future in the West Bank, further rounds of violence are just a matter of time.

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