Trouble Brewing Between Palestinians and Israelis

The Palestinian Authority is keen to prevent a broad confrontation with Israel, but this may change by September.

As late as 5 A.M. Sunday, a Givati Brigade battalion still had guards stationed at the entrance to Nablus to keep Jews seeking to pray at Joseph's Tomb from approaching the area without making arrangements first. About half an hour after the forces left, a group of Hasidim broke into the city, which led to the incident that ended in the killing of Ben-Yosef Livnat by a Palestinian policeman.

The way the events unfolded is infuriating. Instead of looking for and arresting Palestinian terrorists who aim to murder Jews, the Israel Defense Forces is busy protecting Israelis who are hell-bent on putting their own lives in danger. Entering Joseph's Tomb on your own is dangerous and against the law, and the army has been warning all rabbis and Hasidim against doing it for years. Moreover, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have their own organized prayers in the compound. This act of stupidity by the Hasidim triggered an excessive Palestinian reaction with a tragic end.

Palestinian protest March 15, 2011.

It was just a matter of time until an incident like this happened. Entering Nablus like this, with divine intervention as your sole protection, is asking for trouble. The city is full of armed men who wouldn't hesitate to kill Israelis; if the killer wasn't a policeman arguing that the police were trying to preserve order, it could have been a militant from one organization or another.

The Israeli side needs to check its procedures too. This phenomenon often repeats, so why aren't the courts issuing punishments to deter people who enter the territories in violation of the army's orders?

None of this, of course, releases the PA from its responsibility for the incident. The Hasidim were unarmed and didn't take any action against the residents of Nablus. Under such circumstances, direct fire on a vehicle in flight represents excessive use of force (which the IDF is often guilty of against suspicious Palestinian vehicles in the West Bank ).

The difference in the responses of Israeli politicians and the IDF is interesting. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak condemned the murder of Livnat and the wounding of his friends, without commenting on the violation of the law and the danger the pilgrims brought on themselves.

The IDF officers, however, told journalists of the need to continue security coordination with the PA. The two sides have already held an initial, joint investigation into the incident. Anticipating trouble in the coming months, the military brass is keen to maintain close working ties with the Palestinians.

Trouble in the West Bank is brewing ahead of May: the Palestinians' Nakba Day grieving the foundation of Israel, Netanyahu's speech in Congress, and the next Gaza flotilla - all this ahead of September and the planned Palestinian declaration of independence. Meanwhile, the PA is still keen to keep a lid on incidents and prevent a broader confrontation. This may change by September.

For what they are worth, the statements by the PA leaders in recent days suggest a desire to avoid a conflagration. In interviews, PA President Mahmoud Abbas with Newsweek, and PLO Executive Committee Chairman Yasser Abed Rabbo with Al Hayat, it appears the turn to the United Nations for recognition is a means to press the Americans to get involved in the negotiations.

Abbas spoke of his disappointment in Obama and said that "it was Obama who proposed the complete settlement freeze. I said 'okay, I agree.' We both climbed a high tree. After that he climbed down [compromised], moved the ladder and told me to jump. He did this three times."

Abbas also criticized special U.S. envoy George Mitchell for allegedly not relaying to the Israeli side the Palestinians' ideas. Abed Rabbo went a step further. He said the Palestinians wouldn't turn to the UN General Assembly if peace talks resume on the basis of the 1967 borders.