The U.S. recently warned the Palestinian Authority that Israel won’t continue granting permits for Palestinians to work in Israel if quiet isn’t maintained during the month of Ramadan. The warning came in the wake of a spate of terror attacks in Israel and clashes between Palestinian militants and Israeli security forces in the West Bank.
Israeli sources said the message was a relatively marginal intervention by Washington, which in any case has little influence over the current tensions and considers them to be an internal Israeli-Palestinian affair.
Jordan, Egypt and Qatar have been leading the dialogue with the Palestinian leadership in an effort to prevent escalation during the month-long holiday that began Saturday. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday to thank him for these efforts and to relay his best wishes to the king and his family for the Ramadan. Last week, in an unusual move, Abdullah visited Ramallah and met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a bid to ease tensions before the holiday.
Israel has so far refrained from taking steps that might inflame the Palestinian street, like imposing closures during the Ramadan. That’s in part because the recent terror attacks have been lone-wolf efforts, rather than an organized effort by a terrorist organization. However, unlike the last wave of lone-wolf attacks, guns have now replaced knives. While social media has apparently played a role in encouraging the recent wave, there is no broad public support among the Palestinians for the attacks.
Jerusalem has increased the number of Palestinians permitted to work in Israel and taken other steps to improve Palestinians’ quality of life. Both Israeli and Palestinian officials view these measures as significant for preventing an escalation. The PA is interested in having these steps continue, and is therefore openly working to prevent a deterioration in the security situation.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced last week’s deadly attack in Bnei Brak, the only one of the recent attacks in which the terrorist came from the West Bank. Calling for calm, Abbas said that “killings of Palestinians and Israelis will lead to nothing but further deterioration of the situation at a time when we’re trying to achieve stability, on the eve of the month of Ramadan and the Jewish and Christian holidays.”
Israeli officials think that even Hamas, which is generally interested in inflaming the West Bank and Jerusalem, prefers restraint right now lest any confrontation with Israel spill over into the Gaza Strip, where the organization wants to maintain quiet.
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In recent days, Israel has sent both public and secret messages aimed at persuading the Palestinians to prevent the situation from escalating. Defense Minister Benny Gantz, for instance, included a clear threat in a recorded Ramadan greeting to the Palestinians.
“In coordination with the PA, we’re advancing a series of steps meant to improve the quality of life in the West Bank and Gaza,” he said, adding that terror threatens to foil these steps. “We’ll be able to continue working on them only if quiet and security stability are restored.”
Bennett, who toured the separation fence on Sunday to assess security preparations, accompanied by Shin Bet director Ronen Bar and the head of the army’s Central Command, Yehuda Fuchs, was more restrained than he was last week. Then, he declared that “Israel is facing a murderous wave of Arab terror.”
But on Sunday, he said, “Over the weekend, the Shin Bet, police special forces and military personnel thwarted a terror attack on the way to the target. The terrorists have all kinds of ideas like this attack, and therefore we must be on the highest alert, both the Shin Bet and the police, to identify any scrap of an idea or plan for an attack and thwart it ahead of time.”
Israel’s efforts have focused mainly on three tactical steps: an intelligence effort to identify terrorists and thwart attacks, inundating the streets with police and soldiers who can respond to any attack rapidly and neutralize the perpetrators, and preemptive arrests aimed at collecting intelligence and preventing additional attacks.
Its fear now is mainly of the unexpected – a lone-wolf attack in a sensitive spot, like the Temple Mount, that could ignite riots that in turn would drag Hamas and Islamic Jihad into a new round of violence.