The political war between Israel and the Palestinians enters its critical phase today, with the start of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Both sides are hoping that the battle will remain there, in New York, rather than moving to the checkpoints and settlements of the West Bank. Violence in Ramallah and in Psagot, in Nablus and Yitzhar, would cast a shadow over the peace process and call into question the extent of the Palestinian Authority's control of the territory - control that is very important for the PA to demonstrate at this time.
Today, two days before PA President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to submit a formal request for a Security Council vote on accepting Palestine as the 194th member of the UN, the PA will begin holding rallies and marches of support for the measure throughout the West Bank. Over the past few days, during their frequent conversations with Israel Defense Forces commanders in the territory, senior Palestinian officials have repeatedly reiterated their intention to control the demonstrations and keep them inside the major cities, far from points of friction with Israel. The main rally today will be held in front of the Muqata, the PA government center in Ramallah. Studies at Palestinian schools and universities in the West Bank, as well as work at PA government offices, will stop at 10 A.M.
Cooperation on security issues between Israel and the PA has been strictly maintained, so far. The possibility that some young Palestinians may seek to engage the IDF, especially at checkpoints and above all at the Qalandiyah checkpoint, at the northern entrance to Jerusalem, cannot be discounted, however.
Nevertheless, paradoxical as it may sound, the IDF and Shin Bet security service high command is more worried now about the Jews in the West Bank than about the Arabs. The radical fringes of the settler movement have been demonstrating palpable excitement for some days now over the Palestinian move, which could spur them to dangerous provocations.
The Shin Bet has recently taken several steps to curb the most extreme forces among the settlers, but the agency's intelligence coverage of these groups is rather spotty. It's not inconceivable to think that the same people who set fire to West Bank mosques in the past several months, with impunity so far, will try to strike precisely when the General Assembly is in session in Manhattan.
Hamas also poses a threat. Officially, the organization has announced that it won't interfere in the PA's actions despite its opposition. But the numerous attempted terror attacks by Hamas cells in the West Bank in the past month point to a desire to spoil the success of Abbas, its rival.
The Palestinian Churchill
Talks between the Palestinian delegation and representatives of the Quartet continued at the UN yesterday, in a last-minute effort by the Quartet to come up with a formula that would convince Abbas not to apply to the Security Council. As things stand now, assuming the balloting does go ahead the United States will use its veto power in the event the PA drums up the nine votes it needs to carry the day.
Abbas announced yesterday that he intends to return to the West Bank on Saturday, the day after he is scheduled to address the General Assembly, for consultations with the Palestinian leadership regarding his next steps. Abbas is aware of the high expectations on the Palestinian street from receiving recognition of an independent state from a UN body. His popularity in the territories is on an upward trajectory, despite his slim chances of being able to deliver the goods.
Recent polls in the West Bank indicate that the Palestinians are impressed by the chairman's determination to appeal to the United Nations despite pressure from the United States and the Quartet. Abbas is perceived as a warrior who is fighting for his principles against the West, an image once enjoyed by his predecessor, Yasser Arafat.
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