The murder of Aisha Rabi, the 47-year-old woman killed on October 12 after a rock hit the car in which she was traveling in the West Bank near the Tapuach junction, is looking with high probability like an act of terror committed by Jews.
The investigation is being spearheaded by the Jewish affairs division in the Shin Bet, and has yet to determine whether it was direct vengeance for the murder of two Israeli citizens, Kim Yehezkel-Levengrond and Ziv Hajbi, five days earlier in the Barkan industrial zone.
What is clear, though, is that the mood in the West Bank is the most tense it’s been in months. There have been other terror attacks and attempts from the Palestinian side in the last few weeks. Rabi’s cousin, one of the men carrying her body on the stretcher at the funeral, tried to stab a soldier three days later, near that very intersection. He was shot and killed.
That probably isn’t the end of the cycle of revenge. On the ground, security forces are still hunting for the terrorist, a resident of the village of Sokho, who carried out the Barkan terror attack. The growing sense is that he didn’t act alone, but belonged to a local unit, and that he’s being aided and hidden by Palestinian residents.
However, while this incident continues to preoccupy military circles, the the Israeli media has lost interest in its implications rather quickly.
East Jerusalem drew attention, being unusually tense this week. Police arrested two senior Fatah members in the city following the abduction of a Palestinian real estate dealer from Jerusalem to Ramallah, after he had allegedly sold a property to Jews. The two Fatah members were released but first the Palestinian Authority suspended military coordination with the Israeli army and Shin Bet in the city for two days.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas resumed issuing threats to suspend all security coordination, ahead of a conference of PLO institutions scheduled for next week.
The periodic threats by the PA against Israel are usually perceived as the brandishing of an empty gun. Abbas needs the security coordination as much as Israel does because without it, he wouldn’t have access to information about Hamas intrigues against him.
A plan to oust Abbas that the Shin Bet uncovered in the spring of 2014 led the PA to take severe steps against Hamas in the months prior to Operation Protective Edge. At the time, Israeli sources claimed that Abbas was convinced after the head of the Shin Bet, Yoram Cohen, showed him footage of the interrogation of the main Hamas suspect bad-mouthing Abbas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned the incident on Wednesday, speaking at the American Jewish GA convention.
“A couple of years ago we uncovered a plot of 100 Hamas [members] to overthrow Abu Mazen – overthrow, kill him. Not kill him politically – kill him. So if we weren’t there they [Hamas] will be there,” Netanyahu said.
The present tension with the PA is connected with the president’s well-founded suspicion that Israel would circumvent him, like Qatar, Egypt and the UN, to enable economic relief for Gaza, rendering the possibility of war with Hamas more distant. That is the alternative plan, after hope of reaching an arrangement via a peace plan between the two Palestinian camps has evaporated.
Following the hawkish rhetoric from Israel and Hamas last week, both sides clearly walked it back. Israel did not collect a high price from Hamas for the rockets fired into the greater Tel Aviv area and Be’er Sheva (supposedly buying the peculiar Gazan excuse that a lightning strike had accidentally triggered the launch).
Hamas reined in the violence at last Friday’s demonstrations along the fence separating Israel from Gaza. As soon as the fury along the border had quieted down somewhat, the door to political talks reopened and now everybody is waiting for progress, unless of course there is another eruption in the field, which tends to happen.
The recent chain of events clarified yet again that Netanyahu does not want war with Gaza. In the opinion of his ministers, Netanyahu is seriously thinking of announcing in a few weeks that general elections will be brought forward to the spring of 2019 (though his considerations could change if it turns out that the police complete the investigations against him). If Gaza doesn’t boil over in the near future, the prime minister would likely do all he could to leave the conflict on a low flame, at least until the next election.
For that task, he has colleagues of like mind among the top army brass. Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and most of the generals do not view the violent demonstrations or incendiary kites and balloons as sufficient grounds for a far-reaching campaign. They do not identify an achievable goal in a campaign like that at this time. Thus, behind the scenes, a coalition has been created between Netanyahu and Eisenkot to hold back on going to war. The chief of staff, one may assume, knows this coalition is here for a limited time; if he needs to, Netanyahu will have no problem whatsoever blaming the army for the violence coming out of Gaza, as his Likud crony David Bitan tried to do just last week.
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