Shin Bet Chief: Abbas Does Not Encourage Terror

Security service head's remarks contradict declarations by Netanyahu following recent terrorist attacks.

Emil Salman

The terrorists who carried out Tuesday's attack on the synagogue in Jerusalem have no previous security records and did not operate within the framework of any organization, Shin Bet security service chief Yoram Cohen told members of a Knesset committee after the incident.

People present at the discussion, in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, noted that Cohen rejected claims that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was involved in igniting passions and violence among Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

The remarks by the Shin Bet head contradict declarations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent days, and following the deadly attack on the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue.

No one among the Palestinian leadership is calling for violence, Cohen said, noting that Abbas has reiterated that the path of intifada should be rejected. “ Abu Mazen [Abbas] is not interested in terror," he explained, "and is not leading [his people] to terror. Nor is he doing so 'under the table.'” At the same time, however, Cohen admitted that, “There are people in the Palestinian community who are liable to see Abu Mazen’s words of criticism as legitimization for taking action.”

Cohen also told the MKs that the murder of Palestinian youth Mohammed Abu Khdeir this summer by Jews was a decisive event in advance of the outbreak of major clashes in East Jerusalem in recent months. He added that a series of confrontations centering around the Temple Mount – including the ascent to that holy site by MKs, as well as proposed legislation that would change the status quo in the compound – exacerbated the reactions in East Jerusalem neighborhoods.

“There is a phenomenon of individuals who want to carry out attacks in the wake of the events surrounding the Temple Mount,” said Cohen, who called for moderation and efforts to achieve rapprochement on this fraught issue.

Cohen said he doesn't take Abbas' statements lightly, clarifying they have a direct influence on the violence. "Recent incitement by the Palestinian Authority leadership, led by Abbas, on issues related to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, contributes and influences the high level of violence on the ground, specifically in Jerusalem," Cohen said.

People in the Knesset meeting reported that Cohen said public figures should not go up to the Temple Mount at this time, due to the volatile reaction this arouses among the Palestinians.

“The religious dimension of the conflict is very dangerous and explosive, because it has implications for the Palestinians and for Muslims everywhere in the world. We have to do everything possible to instill calm,” said the Shin Bet chief.

Earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu and his senior ministers accused Abbas of the incitement that provoked the attack on the synagogue, located in Jerusalem's Har Nof neighborhood. “It is the direct result of the incitement being led by Hamas and Abu Mazen,” said the prime minister.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) said that, “Abu Mazen, one of the greatest terrorists spawned by the Palestinian nation, bears direct responsibility for the blood of the Jews that was spilled on the tallit and tefillin [prayer shawl and phylacteries, respectively]. At a time when we were preoccupied with illusions about the diplomatic process, the Palestinians were preparing an infrastructure of combined terror and incitement. Even concrete barricades don’t stop terror, but instead encourage it. Abu Mazen has declared war on Israel and we have to respond accordingly.”