Netanyahu's Propaganda War Endangers Security Coordination With PA

The prime minister excels when faced with a crisis, but he would do well to remember that Israel will still need the PA's assistance in the West Bank.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Benjamin Netanyahu, June 14, 2014
Benjamin Netanyahu, June 14, 2014Credit: Reuters
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

If there’s one thing that we’ve learned about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the past five years, it’s that he thrives on national crises. Emergency situations, natural disasters and terror attacks charge his batteries and spur him to quick and effective action. The 2010 Carmel Forest fire, last winter’s snowstorm in Jerusalem, and the extremists’ 2011 takeover of Israel’s embassy in Cairo is just a partial list.

Over the weekend we saw Netanyahu in the same familiar role – visiting the operations room, answering phones, pouring over maps, being photographed surrounded by officers in uniform or senior intelligence officials, and making a statement to the nation. But despite all the security consultations, the situation assessments, the conference calls, and security cabinet debates, there’s nothing much that Netanyahu can do to locate the three kidnapped teens. The Shin Bet security service and Israel Defense Forces have been making intense efforts, but as of last night they had no reliable intelligence.

When that’s the case, all Netanyahu can do is leverage the events for his propaganda against the Palestinian unity government. Since Fatah and Hamas signed their reconciliation agreement in April, Netanyahu hasn’t missed an opportunity to attack Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and, later, the international community for recognizing the new PA government.

Follow our live blog and interactive map for the latest updates on the missing teens

On Saturday, Netanyahu increased the intensity of these attacks, saying the kidnapping was the result of the new unity government and holding Abbas responsible. Netanyahu knows full well that no one is quite buying that.

But that could change. In his statement last night, he said a “terror organization” was behind the kidnapping, though he didn’t specify which. If it turns out that Hamas was responsible, then Netanyahu’s talking points against the Palestinian unity government will get a lot more international attention.

If Hamas indeed committed this attack, many countries – including the United States – are liable to stop all cooperation with the new government. What’s more, if Hamas is involved, the new government may break up only weeks after it was established.

Netanyahu, however, is walking a fine line, because his attacks on Abbas and the PA might undermine the cooperation that still exists with Palestinian intelligence. This incident is still unfolding, and it could very well be that, sooner or later, Israel will need the PA’s assistance – as has happened in similar instances in the past. As Netanyahu’s rhetoric increases, it could reduce the PA’s willingness to cooperate.

With the kidnapping, U.S. State Secretary John Kerry's worst fears have materialized. Over the past few months, Kerry has repeatedly warned that a deterioration in the security situation is imminent if Israel and the Palestinians fail to make the tough decisions that will lead to a breakthrough in the peace talks. Many within Israel's government, like Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, have called him messianic and obsessive, claiming he is trying to frighten Israel into making concessions. No matter the motive, Kerry's assessment has been correct.

The breakdown in the talks with the Palestinians resulted in a grave political threat for Netanyahu, in the form of international pressure increasing isolation. The security threat generated by the kidnapping is just as grave. If the situation spins out of control, Netanyahu could lose the foremost advantage of his term in power – the relative calm in the West Bank.

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