Israel is in a crisis – the heaviest Palestinian street violence in a decade, the threat of a full-blown third intifada – and here’s how Netanyahu is managing it: by seizing on the last available scapegoat.
Outside of the Netanyahu government and its supporters, does anyone believe that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is inciting the rioting and terror in East Jerusalem? Does anyone think the gunmen and killer drivers and adolescent stone-throwers are taking their cues from Ramallah’s 79-year-old bureaucrat-in-chief? Conversely, does anyone think that if Abbas were to call publicly and repeatedly for an end to Palestinian violence in the capital, it would stop?
This is a ridiculous notion. Yet this is the message that Israel’s big four, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, keep flogging after every terror attack in East Jerusalem, and in between as well. Blaming Abbas is the beginning and end of this government’s diplomatic strategy for dealing with the current crisis – the heaviest Palestinian street violence in a decade, the threat of a full-blown third intifada.
After a suspected Hamasnik drove into a crowd on the “seam line” between East and West Jerusalem on Wednesday, killing a Border Police officer and wounding over a dozen other people, Netanyahu said, “the vehicle attack in Jerusalem is a direct result of Abu Mazen’s incitement.” Ya’alon upped the ante, saying, “Abu Mazen’s rhetorical incitement, in which he disseminates lies and hatred against Israel, while praising Palestinian terrorists who harm Jews, are responsible for the bloodshed in Jerusalem.” Bennett decided to outdo everyone, saying Abbas was “the driver of the death car and the terrorists his emissaries.” But he had competition from Liberman, who said, “a leadership such as the Palestinian Authority, which glorifies and encourages terror, creates a ‘terrorcratic’ entity that only leads to more bloodshed.”
First of all, they’re exaggerating about Abbas’ rhetoric. True, he hasn’t helped calm the situation by saying that “settlers … desecrate” the Noble Sanctuary (the Temple Mount to Jews) with their visits; accusing Israel of “declaring war” on the Palestinians by closing the holy site for a few hours for (genuine) security purposes; and heaping blame on the “murderous, terrorist gangs in the Israeli occupation army” for killing Muataz Hijazi, the apparent Islamic Jihad member who tried to assassinate Yehuda Glick, a leading Temple Mount activist. (However, in his condolence letter to Hijazi’s family, Abbas did not praise Hijazi for the shooting or otherwise endorse it, despite what Netanyahu and Co. would have people believe.)
Abbas is pissed off; he’s departed from his usual role as the voice of non-violence and patience. But whatever he says or doesn’t say, his words count for exactly nothing with the young rebels and Islamic radicals in East Jerusalem.
And if we judge Abbas by his deeds, not only isn’t he stoking the violence in East Jerusalem, he’s doing what he’s been doing for the last 10 years – keeping the West Bank amazingly quiet even when Palestinians are at war with Israel elsewhere, usually in Gaza. (On Wednesday night a Palestinian drove his van into three Israeli soldiers standing near a West Bank refugee camp, injuring one of them seriously — in what may have been an accident. But at any rate it’s still clear that Abbas’ Palestinian Authority is doing a much better job controlling violence in the West Bank’s cities, villages and refugee camps than the Israel Police is doing in East Jerusalem, where the PA isn’t allowed.)
Last week Orit Perlov, a social media analyst at Israel’s leading strategic think tank, the Institute for National Security Studies, wrote in Haaretz why she didn’t think a third intifada was in the offing. Here was one of her reasons:
Since Operation Brother’s Keeper in the summer, the security forces of Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been engaging in a wide-scale operation to “cleanse” the West Bank and East Jerusalem of Hamas and Islamic Jihad infrastructures. This operation has been met with a wave of protests against the Palestinian Authority and its head, Mahmoud Abbas.
At the same time, the Shin Bet security service and the PA’s intelligence agencies have been tightening their surveillance of the social networks and the shapers of Palestinian public opinion on the Internet. The Internet is supposedly an open place where people can express opinions freely, but actually, every young Palestinian who tries to organize a public protest to put pressure on the authorities or start an escalation is arrested or called in for questioning.
It’s Abbas who stands between Israel and a third intifada. If not for Abbas and his troops, Israel would be back where it was before the Oslo Accords, its soldiers deployed in every West Bank alley in place of the PA forces who’ve been doing the job all these years. This is a nightmare scenario for Israelis.
So why are Netanyahu and the others dumping on Abbas? They sure as hell don’t want to get rid of him. They don’t want his security men to move into East Jerusalem, either. And this isn’t about gaining a diplomatic advantage; there’s no diplomacy to speak of on the Israeli-Palestinian front. All Israel cares about right now is putting down the violence in East Jerusalem. So do Israel’s leaders really want Abbas to publicly denounce the stone-throwing and killing, even though it would do no good and only lower his standing further on the Palestinian “street,” where he is widely seen as a collaborator (and which is probably one of the reasons Abbas has been toughening up his rhetoric)?
Netanyahu and his crew may indeed be that blind. But I think the reason they’re blaming Abbas for the upheaval in East Jerusalem is actually very simple: He’s all they’ve got left. Who are they going to blame, Hamas? They already did that over the summer, they already bombed Gaza to bits, what are they going to do, bomb Gaza again? Meanwhile, Qatar has become irrelevant; so has Turkey. ISIS isn’t in East Jerusalem; neither is Iran. And they can’t blame Kerry anymore – he’s gone. The only scapegoat who’s still available, who’s still vulnerable, who they can still get some mileage out of beating up, is Abbas, so he’s it.
This whole story reminds me of ‘50s movies like “A Face in the Crowd” and “Born Yesterday,” in which the tyrant becomes steadily more megalomaniacal as reality becomes harder to control, until he’s driven everyone away with his ranting and raving except for one last loyal servant, on whom he takes out all his frustrations. The Netanyahu government has been bashing the Palestinians with steadily more fury while defending itself ever more shrilly, until nobody can bear to listen to them anymore, except Abbas, who has no choice. And now even he seems to be turning away.
Israel is in a crisis, and this is how Bibi and the boys are managing it – by whaling away at a punching bag. By screaming accusations at a ghost. What else are they going to do, accuse themselves? They should, of course, but if they did, they wouldn’t be the tyrants they are.