The firing of a single rocket from Gaza today is easy to dismiss as just an isolated incident unworthy of much notice. The rocket was fired at the city of Ashkelon, but fortunately landed in an open field and did not lead to the activation of the Iron Dome defense system. But the attack, which was the first missile launched from Gaza since the cease-fire that ended Operation Pillar of Defense last November, may tell us more about the violent intentions of the so-called moderates of the Palestinians than it does about the Hamas rulers of the strip.
As I noted on Sunday, the Palestinian Authority’s plans to launch a new intifada prior to President Obama’s visit to Israel isn’t exactly a secret. The recent outbreak of violent demonstrations in the West Bank isn’t so much a natural response to anything Israel has done as it is an orchestrated attempt to get the world to focus on Palestinian complaints. Thus it is not exactly a surprise to note that the group that claimed responsibility for today’s rocket wasn’t Hamas or any of its Islamist rivals but the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is part of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.
The Al Aqsa group’s rocket launch is a reminder to foreign observers that their assumptions about the peaceful intent of Abbas and Fatah is based on willful ignorance and forgetfulness about the last time the PA decided to play the intifada game.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, after all, was created by Abbas’s predecessor, Yasir Arafat, in order to compete with Hamas. In the upside-down world of Palestinian politics, a group or a leader’s credibility is based on how many Jews it kills, not how much it can do to help the plight of their people. That’s why genuine moderates like PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is so well liked in the West, have virtually no constituency.
What may be happening now is, however, a reversal of roles as the PA attempts to bolster its support with violence while Hamas stands pat. Instead of Hamas using terrorism to upstage Fatah in the West Bank, what may be unfolding is a series of events in which it will be the alleged moderates–to whom Israel is being told to make concessions–looking to draw the Islamist rulers of Gaza into a new cycle of violence. The rocket firing was supposedly in retaliation for the death of a Palestinian demonstrator and must be seen in the context of an effort to provoke retaliation that will, they hope, galvanize international condemnation of Israel.
With the West Bank security fence making another campaign of Fatah-funded suicide bombings extremely difficult, and the Iron Dome system making missile attacks on Israel less of a threat, the Palestinians lack effective military options. But they do hope to create enough of a disturbance in order to make President Obama push Israel to do something to appease them. Yet since nothing–not even a settlement freeze–was enough to push Abbas to return to peace talks, there is very little reason for Obama to waste any of his political capital on a spat with Israel that he knows won’t advance the cause of peace.
The last intifada also started with what we were told was a spontaneous outbreak of popular protests, but which were actually instigated by Arafat and followed up with a murderous offensive sponsored by the PA. Fatah may think their interests are best served by heightening tensions with Israel and spilling some blood in order to gain attention. But if they were truly interested in peace or even independence, all they have to do is accept Prime Minister Netanyahu’s offer of peace talks. Until that happens, even an administration as friendly to their cause as that of President Obama is not likely to reward them for inciting violence.