West Bank Tensions Threaten Israel-PA Coordination on Gaza

At this point the clashes do not indicate a full-blown popular uprising by the Palestinians. Still, security officials in Israel are very concerned over the developments.

Amos Harel
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A masked Palestinian throws a fire bomb at Israeli forces at the main entrance of Bethlehem, November 11, 2014.Credit: AFP
Amos Harel

Leaders on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict issued belligerent statements on Tuesday in light of the violence in the territories. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would against Palestinians and Israeli Arabs who took part in violence, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of waging a religious war.

Abbas said he would toward international recognition of a Palestinian state, and at the same time seems to have issued a writ of divorce to Hamas, thus making the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip harder and increasing tensions with Israel there.

There were violent clashes on Tuesday between Palestinians and Israel Defense Forces soldiers in some 30 West Bank villages, mainly in the area of Bethlehem and Hebron. A Palestinian youth who, according to the army, was holding an improvised weapon, was by IDF soldiers in the Al-Arub refugee camp. A Palestinian was severely injured by IDF fire in another incident in which Palestinians were throwing incendiary devices at soldiers near Hebron. Most of the clashes involved a few dozen people; the largest demonstration was of about 200 people.

At this point the clashes do not indicate a full-blown popular uprising by the Palestinians. Still, security officials in Israel are very concerned over the developments, and by the fact that six Israelis have been killed in less than three weeks.

Israel has beefed up its forces in the West Bank with three battalions deployed along roads, among other places, to bolster the sense of security among settlers after the of Dalia Lemkus on Monday in Gush Etzion. Increased police presence could also be seen in cities inside the Green Line following the of the soldier Almog Shilony in Tel Aviv. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said during a visit to the scene of Lemkus’ murder on Tuesday that security forces were prepared for the possibility of escalation.

“We recognize that when a stabbing or a hit-and-run attack succeed, more, similar attacks follow,” he said.

Military sources told Haaretz that it was hard to tell how long the current wave of attacks would last. At a meeting between Ya’alon and IDF brass, concern was expressed over the possibility of copycat assaults. The fact that two of the three latest attacks were caught on security cameras in real time were said to have encouraged additional incidents.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are having difficulty operating their military infrastructure because of pressure from the Palestinian Authority and Israel, are calling on West Bank residents to undertake more “popular attacks,” such as stabbings and hit-and-runs, which do not require detailed preparations or backing by the organizations.

The PA and Fatah refrained from condemning the attacks on Tuesday, with their spokesmen blaming Israel for them.

Netanyahu said on Tuesday after a cabinet meeting on the wave of terror that he would take several severe steps against perpetrators, including house demolitions, fining the parents of children involved in stone-throwing, and banning organizations in Jerusalem that encourage incitement.

Arafat anniversary

Palestinians on Tuesday marked the of the death of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. Abbas, his successor, gave a belligerent speech at the Muqata, the Palestinian Authority government center in Ramallah, with a gigantic picture of Arafat in the background. Abbas had a double message, for Israel and for Hamas. The PA, he said, would continue the diplomatic struggle against Israel by seeking recognition in international institutions, first of all the UN Security Council, to which he said he would apply within a month. Abbas also accused Hamas of responsibility for a series of explosions near the homes of Fatah members in the Gaza Strip last week. His tone underscored the assessment that the PA was for the time being not going to assist in rehabilitation of the damage of last summer’s war.

Because the lifting of the closure of the Strip from the Egyptian side depends entirely on the PA’s willingness to act as a liaison between Hamas and Egypt, the practical implication of Abbas’ position is that the rehabilitation project will come to a halt. The slow progress in reconstruction will leave tens of thousands of families without a roof over their heads when winter comes.

Although Abbas does not openly encourage terror, his statements on Tuesday apparently reflect a lack of willingness to quell the tension. Continued attacks in the West Bank, along with strain on the diplomatic front, could eventually damage security coordination (which is successful meanwhile) between the PA, the IDF and the Shin Bet security service in the Gaza Strip. Lacking an optimistic horizon, the likelihood grows that extremist groups in the Gaza Strip will fire rockets at the Negev in solidarity with the West Bank, but also as a message to Israel regarding the lack of progress in the rebuilding of the Strip.

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