The Palestinian Authority has ordered its security forces to prevent demonstrations planned for September from escalating into violent confrontations with Israel, especially in potential friction points like the roadblocks and settlements.
Senior Palestinian Authority figures issued the orders to the Palestinian security forces in recent weeks out of concern that there may be violent clashes between thousands of Palestinian demonstrators and Israel Defense Forces at the end of September, following a vote at the United Nations General Assembly for recognition of a Palestinian state.
In similar messages relayed to the IDF, the PA made clear that it intended to prevent largescale violent protests which would heighten tensions and undermine security cooperation between the two sides.
Last week PA President Mahmoud Abbas called on all Palestinians to participate in non-violent marches which are part of a series of events planned by the Authority for late September. Earlier this week, the General Secretary of the PLO Executive Committee, Yasser Abed Rabbo, announced that plans to hold a mass rally on September 20 when UN deliberations in New York begin.
The Palestinian demonstrations are scheduled to take place in the centers of Palestinian cities - and not in locations where they may lead to friction with Israelis. Moreover, the PLO is sponsoring the events and the security forces are charged with overseeing order.
Meanwhile, the Arab League announced Thursday that it will support the plan of the PA to seek recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN General Assembly.
The PLO's chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said, following a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Monitoring Committee of the Arab League, that he would like the United States to avoid vetoing the request which the League will make at the Security Council for recognition of a Palestinian state, and for granting Palestine the status of a member-state at the UN.
According to public opinion polls and interviews in the media with many residents of the West Bank, there appears to be no interest in the possibility of a third intifada or a drawn out violent confrontation with Israel. Most Palestinians would like to see an improvement in the economy and the establishment of state institutions, in line with the plan pursued by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Most of the West Bank Palestinians polled or interviewed also support the move to seek recognition at the General Assembly. But many say they are worried about what they consider to be a deteriorating economic situation in the PA, in spite of the growth in recent years. On many levels there is a sense that what is happening to the Israeli middle class is also felt among middle class Palestinians, namely, that a small group of people is enjoying the fruits of economic growth.
Most Palestinians earn a modest living. However, in the public sector the salaries are higher. The PA is the largest employer, with some 150,000 employees, and nearly one million people whose livelihood depends on that income. But the PA is experiencing serious financial problems and it is unclear whether wages for the civil servants will be paid on time. Such conditions may lead to tensions with Israel but also to tensions within the PA.
Meanwhile, one of the leaders of Hamas in the West Bank, Sheikh Hassan Yussuf, was released from prison after serving a six year sentence. He said that he opposes the PA's decision to turn to the UN for recognition because it is an act which is void of substance and will have no impact on the ground.
Some senior PA leaders recognize that even the "organized" events planned for September 20 may spill out of control if thousands of Palestinians decide to march onto roadblocks or settlements.
The PA has an unknown element - a young generation which uses social networking and draws its inspiration from the ongoing protests in the Arab world. This new generation is not eager to use violence, and certainly does not seek armed confrontation, but will opt for "popular resistance," of the sort seen on Fridays at Bili'in and Na'alin in the West Bank.
However, if there are many Palestinians injured during demonstrations, armed militants may try to target IDF forces, and may not make do with simply throwing stones.