Palestinian Authority's Malaise Fans Flames of Lone-wolf Attacks

The resurgence in knifing attacks show that the Palestinian sovereign is increasingly less relevant in the lives of its subjects and its legitimacy is eroding.

Border Police frisking a Palestinian after a stabbing attack on Israeli security forces at Damascus Gate, Sept. 19, 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

It was surreal. On a mid-September Friday I went to Nablus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem to prepare a story on the decline of the so-called knifing intifada, which broke out exactly a year ago. But what I witnessed there instead of a decline was its renaissance – an attempted stabbing that marked its resurgence. Since then one attack has followed another.

What has happened? Why did these lone-wolf attacks resume now, of all times? No one in the occupied territories has an answer. The amount of incitement online and in the Hamas and Islamic Jihad media has actually decreased lately. The Palestinian Authority announced that it wouldn’t allow the one-year anniversary of the outbreak of this uprising to be marked by rallies or ceremonies, and it seemed that everyone believed that such attacks were little more than a form of hopeless attempted suicide.

But that is a mistaken view. All it took was one small flick of flame to light the fire again. Again came the attacks, mainly in Hebron and Jerusalem, and again the main targets are the security forces. The assailants’ background is again very similar: personal problems, the desire to launch copycat attacks and, mainly, the urge to take revenge for the loss of family members.

However, the main importance of the renewed outbreak lies in what is absent: control and direction. These attacks by young people, some of them youths of high-school age, going to their pointless deaths with eyes wide open, without their families or friends being able to stop them, are yet another sign of a process of breakdown of authoritative elements in Palestinian society.

Moreover, these attacks demonstrate that the PA, the sovereign, is increasingly less relevant in the lives of its subjects, and its legitimacy is increasingly eroding. The overall sense of the residents of the territories is one of absence of leadership and direction.

The popularity of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who opposes the use of violence, is at its nadir, according to recent polls. Almost two-thirds of Palestinians want him to go. Increasing numbers of Palestinians dare to come out and criticize him, even openly, and the PA is perceived as a body that does Israel’s work, an anachronistic and collaborationist mechanism that is preoccupied with its own survival.

At the same time, there are increasing signs of anarchy. What began in refugee camps in the northern part of the West Bank is metastasizing into Palestinian cities. Confrontations with armed lawbreakers are becoming frequent, approaching the heart of the PA dominion, Ramallah.

The lone-wolf attacks constitute a problematic front for Israel, which it must contend with, but the continued vacuum and dire economic situation of the Palestinians could hasten the coming of the ultimate horrific scenario: the collapse of the governing Palestinian structure.

The writer is a correspondent for Channel 2 News.