Ahead of Palestinians' UN bid, Israel sees risks in East Jerusalem and Gaza
Two variables are causing concern over what may happen when battle at the United Nations reaches its peak: What will happen in East Jerusalem, and what Hamas will do.
The first day of the Palestinian Authority's UN effort went more or less as anticipated. West Bank Palestinians responded rather weakly to the PA's calls for demonstrations to show their support, while at specific points of friction only a few dozen young Palestinians showed up to confront Israel Defense Forces soldiers.
There are still two unknown variables causing concern about what may happen during the next few days, when the battle at the United Nations reaches its peak: What will happen in East Jerusalem (particularly during tomorrow's Friday prayers at the mosques on the Temple Mount), and what Hamas will do. Taken together, they still pose a risk in the near term.
In conversations with their Israeli counterparts yesterday, senior Palestinian security officials stressed that yesterday's rallies of support for the PA did not constitute a general strike and were for a few hours only.
"In all our encounters with them, they've been talking to us straight," a senior IDF officer said yesterday. "They are telling us exactly what they're planning. The message has been clear: 'We're in control of the situation. If the demonstrations slide out of control at the fringes, you Israelis will have to deal with it.'"
Yesterday, at least, this happened only at the Qalandiyah checkpoint, north of Jerusalem, and only in a limited fashion. There was a sharp increase in reports of incidents of rock-throwing at Israeli cars on West Bank roads, but there were no confrontations between Palestinians and settlers. For now the battles are focusing on flags: For every Palestinian flag hung by Palestinians near Hawara, at the southern exit of Nablus, the Samaria Regional Council made sure to hang two Israeli flags.
The IDF will continue to monitor what's going on in areas prone to flare-ups such as Hebron, Bethlehem, the Shiloh Valley north of Ramallah and, above all, Jerusalem. Both sides basically understand that right now all incidents are strategic, not tactical. Any local incident, especially a clash between Palestinians and Jewish settlers, has the potential to affect what happens in the UN.
In New York, as of last night the near-certain assessment was that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will ask the Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state rather than settling for the lesser observer status that the General Assembly can grant. This approach turned up the international pressure on Abbas, which is only expected to increase further as the zero hour approached. The Palestinians may be playing for time, if only to ascertain what they might get in return for making concessions.
U.S. President Barack Obama, meanwhile, changed his mind and decided to meet with Abbas, for their first face-to-face talks in months. Their last meeting ended with Abbas refusing Obama's request to drop his UN bid - and then publicly boasting about saying no to Obama. One cannot dismiss the possibility that Obama's pro-Israel speech to the General Assembly last night, which the Netanyahu government was so pleased with, will only harden the Palestinian position.
Like Israel, Hamas is also tensely monitoring the developments. It is sitting on the fence for now, and hasn't called publicly for violence. One major reason for this is that its two new patrons, Turkey and Egypt (as opposed to its veteran sponsors, Iran and Syria ) both support Abbas's move.