Commentary Magazine


Topic: third intifada

Two Crimes and the Myths of the Intifadas

Today’s news of the arrests of six Jewish extremists in the murder of an Arab teenager last week will likely only add to the anger fueling violent Arab protests both inside Israel and in the West Bank. As Seth Mandel and Eugene Kontorovich ably pointed out earlier today, there is no excuse for this heinous crime and no comparing it to the murders of Jews that are widely cheered by Palestinians. But this atrocity could turn out to be the event that sets a third intifada in motion.

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Today’s news of the arrests of six Jewish extremists in the murder of an Arab teenager last week will likely only add to the anger fueling violent Arab protests both inside Israel and in the West Bank. As Seth Mandel and Eugene Kontorovich ably pointed out earlier today, there is no excuse for this heinous crime and no comparing it to the murders of Jews that are widely cheered by Palestinians. But this atrocity could turn out to be the event that sets a third intifada in motion.

As the Times of Israel’s Elhanan Miller writes today, the gruesome death of 16-year-old Muhammed Abu Khdeir brings to mind the alleged justifications for the events that were used to exploit Arab anger and begin both the first and second intifadas. Like the 1987 traffic accident that took the lives of Palestinian laborers and Ariel Sharon’s stroll on the Temple Mount in 2000, the murder of the Palestinian teenager is merely an excuse for Arabs, both in Israel and the West Bank, to vent their spleen at the Jewish state rather than a protest focused on a specific grievance or injustice.

Miller rightly points out that those intifadas didn’t come out of a void. Both had the appearance of a spontaneous uprising but were exploited by the Palestinian leadership. In particular, the second intifada was a calculated response by Yasir Arafat to a peace offer that cynically plunged the country into a war that cost thousands of casualties to both sides and did incalculable damage to the Palestinian economy and Israeli faith in the peace process. While an intifada isn’t in the interests of Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, the bloodletting could be exactly what his new partners/rivals of Hamas want to rebuild their tarnished political brand.

As such, the rioting that spread throughout Israel and the territories over the weekend must be understood as being more than a natural reaction to a horrendous crime against an Arab. Like previous rationales for Arab violence—whether taken out of context or pure fabrications such as the claim that Sharon’s walk was a prelude to the destruction of the mosques on the Temple Mount—Abu Khdeir’s death is well on its way to becoming part of the Palestinian martyrology used to justify violence against the Jewish state.

To state this fact is not to minimize the disgusting nature of the murder of the Arab teenager or the revulsion felt by Jews around the world at the thought that some of their co-religionists have sunk to such barbarism. This senseless act may, for once, justify efforts to treat competing Arab and Jewish actions events as morally equivalent. Unlike comparisons such as the one attempted by the New York Times that I wrote about last week, which treated the death of kidnapping victims as no different from that of an Arab who took to the streets to fight Israeli forces attempting to find/rescue the teens, Abu Khdeir appears to have been the innocent casualty of an act of terror. That most Israelis condemn the murder of Abu Khdeir while most Palestinians mocked the plight of the three Jewish teenagers will not prevent the world from treating these two incidents as essentially cancelling each other out.

But the manner in which the Palestinians are exploiting this crime has little to do with these specific circumstances. If indeed this is to be the start of a third intifada, it will have no more to do with one Arab teenager than the incidents that allegedly set them off. Just as the murder of the three Israeli teens did not justify any attacks on individual Arabs, the riots that broke out today are not really about the death of a Palestinian boy or even generalized grievances against Israel. Rather, it a violent expression of resentment against Zionism and the existence of a Jewish state that they would like to see disappear.

It should be remembered that Palestinians took to the streets in large numbers to protest after the kidnapping but before the news about the death of the Abu Khdeir. In the first round of demonstrations, the Palestinians were seeking to oppose the efforts of Israelis searching for kidnapping victims. In the current riots, they are expressing anger in a way that actually seeks to target individual Israelis within reach who had nothing to do with what happened to the Arab victims. The rocket fire from Hamas terrorists that is raining down on southern Israel the last few days also is motivated by their desire to exact a price for the arrests of their operatives in the wake of the kidnapping, not a protest about one Arab teenager.

The unbalanced nature of this conflict remains. A two-state solution in which both sides would accept each other’s legitimacy remains more popular among Jews than Arabs. The force motivating Palestinian political efforts remains a belief in the struggle to eliminate Israel, not a desire to rectify any particular misbehavior on the part of their antagonists. In Palestinian eyes, every act of terror against the Jews remains justifiable if not heroic. Their objections about Israeli misbehavior, even when their complaints are genuine, are not about redressing grievances but an excuse to exacerbate the conflict so as to make their own attacks more effective. If, as many fear, another round of violence that will be dubbed an intifada will follow these tragic events, no one should confuse it with a genuine protest. Instead, it will be, as was the case with the first two intifadas, a mere pretext for more violence. When seen in that light, even when we acknowledge the horror of the murder of the Arab teenager, the mythology of this intifada will be just as much of a lie as its predecessors.

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Kerry Misreads Palestinian Unrest

In recent weeks, Secretary of State John Kerry has taken to warning Israel that if it doesn’t give away more of its positions in the peace talks with the Palestinians, it will face a third intifada. Though it is unlikely that any Israeli concessions would be enough to convince Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas that he should risk everything by ending the conflict, Kerry’s threat is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Though this may not be his intention, by speaking in this manner Kerry is sending a clear message to the Palestinians that any violence will be considered justified by Washington. The question is, do a string of recent events indicate that the Palestinians are listening to him?

Yesterday, Israelis celebrated the quick wits of a bus driver whose alert reaction saved the lives of his passengers after a bomb was discovered on the vehicle. The terrorist attack failed, but the prospect of a return to bus bombings—this was the first such attempt in over a year—was a reminder that Palestinian terror groups are poised to return to violence. But rather than this constituting an incentive for Israel to bend to Abbas’s demands, the ferment in the territories shows just how unlikely it is that the PA is strong enough to make the decision to make peace or to defend it against opponents.

While the mainstream international press continues to parrot Kerry’s line about the PA being a peace partner, the rumblings in the Palestinian street indicate, as journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reports, that Abbas’s Fatah Party wants no part of the talks:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry may soon have to come up with a new plan to help Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas solve internal problems in ruling his Fatah faction.

The only plan that Kerry has thus far proposed is one that talks about future security arrangements between a Palestinian state and Israel. What Kerry and the State Department are probably unaware of is that Fatah, Israel’s “peace partner,” is in urgent need of a plan to rid it of its internal disputes. What the U.S. seems not to understand is that a weak, divided and discredited Fatah will never be able to sign any agreement with Israel. A series of events over the past few weeks have left many Palestinians wondering if Fatah will ever be able to recover and rehabilitate itself in the aftermath of its defeat by Hamas in the January 2006 parliamentary election. These events have also raised questions as to Abbas’ ability to rein in and control his own loyalists in Fatah. Abbas, it seems, has lost control not only over the Gaza Strip, but also his Fatah faction.

As Abu Toameh notes, the expulsion of a leading activist and member of the Palestinian parliament from Fatah illustrates the false premise at the heart of Kerry’s quest. If Abbas is not able to command the loyalty of his own faction, its difficult to imagine how he could ever sell peace to a Palestinian public that continues to view radical factions like Hamas and Islamic Jihad with favor.

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In recent weeks, Secretary of State John Kerry has taken to warning Israel that if it doesn’t give away more of its positions in the peace talks with the Palestinians, it will face a third intifada. Though it is unlikely that any Israeli concessions would be enough to convince Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas that he should risk everything by ending the conflict, Kerry’s threat is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Though this may not be his intention, by speaking in this manner Kerry is sending a clear message to the Palestinians that any violence will be considered justified by Washington. The question is, do a string of recent events indicate that the Palestinians are listening to him?

Yesterday, Israelis celebrated the quick wits of a bus driver whose alert reaction saved the lives of his passengers after a bomb was discovered on the vehicle. The terrorist attack failed, but the prospect of a return to bus bombings—this was the first such attempt in over a year—was a reminder that Palestinian terror groups are poised to return to violence. But rather than this constituting an incentive for Israel to bend to Abbas’s demands, the ferment in the territories shows just how unlikely it is that the PA is strong enough to make the decision to make peace or to defend it against opponents.

While the mainstream international press continues to parrot Kerry’s line about the PA being a peace partner, the rumblings in the Palestinian street indicate, as journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reports, that Abbas’s Fatah Party wants no part of the talks:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry may soon have to come up with a new plan to help Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas solve internal problems in ruling his Fatah faction.

The only plan that Kerry has thus far proposed is one that talks about future security arrangements between a Palestinian state and Israel. What Kerry and the State Department are probably unaware of is that Fatah, Israel’s “peace partner,” is in urgent need of a plan to rid it of its internal disputes. What the U.S. seems not to understand is that a weak, divided and discredited Fatah will never be able to sign any agreement with Israel. A series of events over the past few weeks have left many Palestinians wondering if Fatah will ever be able to recover and rehabilitate itself in the aftermath of its defeat by Hamas in the January 2006 parliamentary election. These events have also raised questions as to Abbas’ ability to rein in and control his own loyalists in Fatah. Abbas, it seems, has lost control not only over the Gaza Strip, but also his Fatah faction.

As Abu Toameh notes, the expulsion of a leading activist and member of the Palestinian parliament from Fatah illustrates the false premise at the heart of Kerry’s quest. If Abbas is not able to command the loyalty of his own faction, its difficult to imagine how he could ever sell peace to a Palestinian public that continues to view radical factions like Hamas and Islamic Jihad with favor.

The Fatah activist in question is Jamal Abu al Rub, who goes by the charming nickname of “Hitler” among fellow Palestinians. Abu al Rub apparently beat up Arafat ally Jibril Rajoub and paid for it with his Fatah membership card. But apparently many in Fatah, especially in the Jenin area, back “Hitler” and the blowback from the confrontation may not be over.

This development may be unrelated to the recent upsurge in violence in the West Bank against Israelis, rocket firings from Gaza, or the bus attack yesterday that was publicly applauded by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. But added together they point to the fact that there is little appetite among Palestinians for any concessions on Abbas’s part that would make peace possible.

Despite Kerry’s focus on what Israel should be giving up in the talks, their success still hinges on Abbas’ giving up Palestinian demands for a “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees and the PA being willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Since Abbas has not indicated any willingness to do either of those things and has repeatedly refused to do the latter in principle, its hard to imagine the talks Kerry has sponsored succeeding.

The prospect of another intifada should rightly worry the United States as well as Israel, but if Kerry is really concerned about nipping it in the bud he is going about it in the wrong way. The only way to ensure that Palestinian violence won’t bubble over into another terrorist offensive in which Fatah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad will compete is to make it clear to Abbas that such a turn of events would be more dangerous for his tenure than the peace he seems to fear so much.

Abbas is giving every indication that he is too weak to make peace, but he is not so weak that he can’t defend his rule against dissidents if it came to it. But instead of pushing him to take decisions that are bound to strengthen Hamas, this is the moment when Kerry should be sending a message to the Palestinians that if they resort to violence, all bets are off. Absent that, and with the U.S. acting as if they will blame Israel rather than Abbas for the all-but-certain failure of the peace initiative, Washington may be setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to an explosion that neither Kerry nor Abbas will be able to control.

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Obama Needs to Warn Abbas on Terror

Mahmoud Abbas celebrated the start of the ninth year of his four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority in Cairo today by attending a summit with the leader of the rival Hamas group. Abbas was summoned to the meeting due to pressure from Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who is expected to help pressure Gulf nations to donate money to the perpetually bankrupt PA. The Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt has long sought to promote the idea of Palestinian unity, something that would strengthen the position of their Hamas allies. This worries Abbas, who also remains the head of the hopelessly incompetent and corrupt Fatah movement that runs the PA. But while there is little likelihood that this latest conclave between the two groups will lead to an actual merger and power sharing in the West Bank and Gaza, the signs are clear that they are moving closer to each other in other ways.

That was made plain by another and perhaps more significant event today. The Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade is the terrorist wing of Fatah and was responsible for many terrorist attacks on Israelis during the second intifada. It hasn’t been heard from much in recent years as Abbas played the moderate to the applause of Americans and left-wing Israelis. But the march by armed fighters belonging to the group in a refugee camp near Nablus was an ominous warning that the reports filtering out of the West Bank about plans for a third intifada by the PA may be more than rumors. This gives the lie to the claims made by both the Obama administration and Israeli President Shimon Peres on behalf of Abbas’s bona fides as a peacemaker. This is something the Obama administration ought to take into consideration before they launch another attempt to pressure Israel into concessions to jump-start peace talks.

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Mahmoud Abbas celebrated the start of the ninth year of his four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority in Cairo today by attending a summit with the leader of the rival Hamas group. Abbas was summoned to the meeting due to pressure from Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who is expected to help pressure Gulf nations to donate money to the perpetually bankrupt PA. The Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt has long sought to promote the idea of Palestinian unity, something that would strengthen the position of their Hamas allies. This worries Abbas, who also remains the head of the hopelessly incompetent and corrupt Fatah movement that runs the PA. But while there is little likelihood that this latest conclave between the two groups will lead to an actual merger and power sharing in the West Bank and Gaza, the signs are clear that they are moving closer to each other in other ways.

That was made plain by another and perhaps more significant event today. The Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade is the terrorist wing of Fatah and was responsible for many terrorist attacks on Israelis during the second intifada. It hasn’t been heard from much in recent years as Abbas played the moderate to the applause of Americans and left-wing Israelis. But the march by armed fighters belonging to the group in a refugee camp near Nablus was an ominous warning that the reports filtering out of the West Bank about plans for a third intifada by the PA may be more than rumors. This gives the lie to the claims made by both the Obama administration and Israeli President Shimon Peres on behalf of Abbas’s bona fides as a peacemaker. This is something the Obama administration ought to take into consideration before they launch another attempt to pressure Israel into concessions to jump-start peace talks.

For four years, Abbas has done everything possible to avoid having to return to the negotiating table with Israel. Despite the best efforts of President Obama to tip the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians’ favor, Abbas wouldn’t deal with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu even after he froze settlement building and pledged to support a two-state solution. He compounded that by doing an end run around U.S.-sponsored talks and getting the United Nations to upgrade the PA’s observer status at the world body.

The possibility of another Middle East initiative from Obama may worry friends of Israel. But it is also a concern to Abbas, who will do anything to avoid being put in the position of having to turn down peace and statehood as he did in 2008 and his predecessor Yasir Arafat did in 2000 and 2001.

The Palestinians may be thinking that they can generate more sympathy for themselves and pressure on Israel by reverting to violence than by returning to the negotiating table that they have spurned for the last four years. That may cause some Americans to redouble their efforts to pressure Netanyahu in a futile effort to appease the Palestinians, but doing so would miss the point of Fatah’s return to its terrorist origins. Abbas won’t make peace, not just because he’s weak and his followers don’t want to end the conflict. If he’s showing signs of unleashing the Al Aksa killers again it is because that is the best and perhaps only way for Fatah to compete with Hamas for the affections of West Bank Arabs. In the upside-down world of Palestinian politics, violence against Jews, rather than efforts to improve the lives of the people, remains the ticket to popularity. If a Fatah-Hamas merger is ever to take place, it will mean a contest between the two, and the only way for Abbas’s faction to hold its own is to unleash another intifada.

President Obama ought to be reacting to these developments by making it clear to Abbas that he will lose the support of the United States as well as his European donors if he fails to talk to Israel or if he gives the green light to the Al Aksa Martyrs to start shooting. If, instead of that sensible course, he concentrates his fire on the Netanyahu government, an opportunity to stop another round of bloodshed may be lost.

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Palestinians Burning Their Bridges

The Palestinians and their leadership have spent the last 20 years converting a strong Israeli majority in favor of the peace process into one that regards the whole concept as a dangerous fantasy. Twenty years ago the Israeli left romped in an election that relegated the Likud to minority status. In next month’s Knesset elections, not even the Labor party will spend time advocating for more concessions to the Palestinians in exchange for the hope of peace. Terrorism, the second intifada, the rise of Hamas and the conversion of Gaza into a terror state have effectively destroyed the Israeli left. But rather than react to this somber shift in the mood of their neighbors with an attempt to restart peace talks or to convince them that their goal is to end the conflict rather than to merely continue it on more advantageous terms, the Palestinians are planning on doubling down on their negative image.

As the Associated Press reports, the Palestinian Authority is planning on responding to the expected re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a wide range of activities designed to deepen rather than to ameliorate the antagonism and the cynicism with which the majority of Israelis view them. The PA plans to use its enhanced status at the UN to pursue specious charges of war crimes against Israelis in the International Criminal Court and advocating for sanctions and boycotts against the Jewish state. Worse than that, they are threatening not just to organize mass protests and confrontations with Israelis in the West Bank but to end all security cooperation between their armed forces and those of Israel, a measure that has helped keep relative peace in the region. While PA leader Mahmoud Abbas thinks this is a clever tactic designed to force President Obama to pressure Israel into giving in to more of his demands, the result will be nothing less than a third intifada that may help further isolate Israel but which will devastate the Palestinian economy and effectively end all hope for Israeli support for a two-state solution.

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The Palestinians and their leadership have spent the last 20 years converting a strong Israeli majority in favor of the peace process into one that regards the whole concept as a dangerous fantasy. Twenty years ago the Israeli left romped in an election that relegated the Likud to minority status. In next month’s Knesset elections, not even the Labor party will spend time advocating for more concessions to the Palestinians in exchange for the hope of peace. Terrorism, the second intifada, the rise of Hamas and the conversion of Gaza into a terror state have effectively destroyed the Israeli left. But rather than react to this somber shift in the mood of their neighbors with an attempt to restart peace talks or to convince them that their goal is to end the conflict rather than to merely continue it on more advantageous terms, the Palestinians are planning on doubling down on their negative image.

As the Associated Press reports, the Palestinian Authority is planning on responding to the expected re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a wide range of activities designed to deepen rather than to ameliorate the antagonism and the cynicism with which the majority of Israelis view them. The PA plans to use its enhanced status at the UN to pursue specious charges of war crimes against Israelis in the International Criminal Court and advocating for sanctions and boycotts against the Jewish state. Worse than that, they are threatening not just to organize mass protests and confrontations with Israelis in the West Bank but to end all security cooperation between their armed forces and those of Israel, a measure that has helped keep relative peace in the region. While PA leader Mahmoud Abbas thinks this is a clever tactic designed to force President Obama to pressure Israel into giving in to more of his demands, the result will be nothing less than a third intifada that may help further isolate Israel but which will devastate the Palestinian economy and effectively end all hope for Israeli support for a two-state solution.

The Palestinians claim they have no choice but to resort to this strategy because the Israelis and even many of their foreign friends such as President Obama are ignoring them. But the reason why someone as sympathetic to the Palestinians and hostile to Israel’s government as Obama may have given up on the peace process is that four years of attempts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction was never enough to convince the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Palestinian harassment of Israelis at the UN and in international forums will be annoying but won’t change a thing. But their decision to go back to intifada tactics is a guarantee of bloodshed. They may claim their protests will be peaceful, but rock throwing inevitably escalates to more violent tactics. It is also a given that Hamas and terrorist elements of Abbas’s Fatah that are tasked with competing with the Islamists in that category will be using the protests as cover for attacks. If the PA ends security cooperation, it will end the same way the second intifada did with PA “police” joining the terrorists in shooting at Israelis.

This will kill what little support remains inside Israel for compromise with the PA. But Abbas is not wrong to believe that it will make the Palestinians more rather than less popular in Europe, where any form of Israeli self-defense will be depicted as immoral no matter what the circumstances might be. A rising tide of anti-Semitism on the continent has made Israel particularly unpopular there. But while heightening Israel’s isolation may seem like a smart thing to do in Ramallah, it won’t do a thing to give the Palestinians a better life or to get them closer to peace or independence.

The only thing that will do that is for Abbas to do the one thing he has refused to do since he fled the talks with Netanyahu’s predecessor when he was offered a state. The best alternative to the status quo isn’t an intifada that will send the conflict into another death spiral of violence and futility. It is negotiations for a two-state solution that no Israeli government could spurn. By choosing to avoid that obvious path to peace, the Palestinians are burning their last bridges to the Israeli people. They shouldn’t expect the United States, even during a second Obama administration to dig them out of the hole they are placing themselves in.

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