Whether the violence in Jerusalem since the gruesome murder of Muhammad Abu-Khdeir in July amounts to a Third Intifada will only be clear in hindsight. But what the murder on Wednesday of Chaya Zissel Braun has shown, beyond the ruthlessness of the act and the enduring tension in Jerusalem, is the shrewdness of Hamas’s strategy of overthrowing the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank by, of all things, persistently killing innocent Israelis.
That is one of the ways Israel should view the recent developments in Jerusalem. When Abdel Rahman al-Shaludi, a Hamas member and relative of a former head of the organization’s armed wing, turned his car into a lethal weapon on Wednesday, he was, whether by design or not, acting exactly according to the alleged Hamas coup plans exposed in August.
At the time, the Shin Bet said that it had exposed a Hamas plan to “overthrow the Palestinian Authority and seize control of Judea and Samaria.”
Many pictured a coup: the surrounding of the Muqata and the deposing of the chairman of the Palestinian Authority. But what the Shin Bet actually uncovered was a plan, coordinated from Hamas headquarters in Turkey, to establish a loose network of terror cells, comprising a total of 93 operatives, which would “destabilize the security situation in the West Bank and carry out a string of grave attacks in Israel.”
The Shin Bet left the rest unsaid: Israel, as happened in Gaza, would assign blame to the PA, seethe, and finally retaliate, weakening the PA to the point that Hamas could step in and finish it off.
And the reactions to the terror attack were, in fact, unusually harsh and directed squarely at PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, speaking from Washington, said that “there is none, nor has there ever been, in the Palestinian Authority a culture of peace, but rather a culture of incitement and jihad against Jews.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assigned blame to Hamas, but also to Abbas, “who just a few days ago incited attacks on Jews in Jerusalem,” as he said in a statement.
Hamas, of course, cannot take all of the credit for the roiling tension and constant drip of violence in the northern part of the city since the July murder. Other forces are at work, too – the friction on the Temple Mount and the status quo that leaves many Arab residents of East Jerusalem cut off from the West Bank and also unaffiliated, at least by citizenship, with Israel. Nonetheless, it is squarely within the organization’s interest to perpetuate instability so that even a random spark could light the fire of a third intifada.
“I say this and I repeat, I do not recognize an intifada,” Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch insisted Wednesday after the terror attack.
Instead, he said, there was “a rise of incidents” of late but one that, with the help of an increased police presence in the capital, “we will overcome.”
For Aharonovitch and the Israel Police, an organization beset by widespread malfeasance, that will be a tall order, and one hopefully achieved before the fire hops the fence and spreads to the West Bank.