The death of Ziad Abu Ein is more than another statistic in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. A member of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Cabinet, Abu Ein died after leading a demonstration that sought to break into land claimed by an Israeli settlement. The 55-year-old died in the aftermath of a clash he initiated with soldiers guarding the site. That was bad enough but, as is par for the course in this situation, the team of doctors who performed an autopsy on him split along national lines. A Palestinian doctor says he died from the blows he got from the soldiers. The Israeli doctors say he had heart disease and died from the stress caused by the incident. Predictably, the U.S. is calling for an inquiry into the incident but rather than get caught up in the question of which doctor is telling the truth, the real answer as to what killed Abu Ein is the commitment of his Fatah Party to perpetuating the conflict rather than accepting a compromise that would end it.
The big picture about the peace process tends to get lost whenever the rights and wrongs of specific incidents become the issue. In this case, the truth is not complicated but is still open to interpretation.
The Palestinian position is that Abu Ein died as result of brutality inflicted on him during the demonstration. Abu Ein and the demonstrators he led into a line of armed soldiers clearly invited a forceful response. Whether he took a blow to the chest or was hit by a tear gas canister, there is no question that those involved in the scrum were likely roughed up. Israeli soldiers may have used too much force or it may be that Abu Ein simply expired because his heart disease made him vulnerable to collapse when he tried to break through a line of armed soldiers.
It should also be remembered that when we speak of him being a Cabinet minister, this was not some bureaucrat in charge of the Palestinian treasury or some other responsible officeholder. He was in fact the Cabinet member in charge of staging provocations against both settlements and checkpoints in the West Bank. A convicted terrorist who took part in a bomb plot that resulted in the murder of two Israeli teenagers, he was eventually released in a prisoner exchange before becoming a PA official. His goal was to create violent confrontations and to generate Palestinian casualties that could be paraded before the world as evidence of Israeli cruelty. The only difference between this and other such violent demonstrations is that Abu Ein was the statistic rather than some anonymous Palestinian.
But no matter what happened when he led the charge into a line of soldiers or what we might think of his job or his background, the real reason for Abu Ein’s death can be attributed to the core ideology of the Palestinian national movement that he served in various violent capacities during his life.
Four times in the last 15 years, the Palestinian Authority Abu Ein served was given a chance to negotiate a peace deal that might have given them independence and statehood. Twice under Yasir Arafat’s leadership they turned offers of sovereignty over almost all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem, as well as Gaza down flat. Once Abbas fled the negotiations after receiving an even more generous offer. In the past year, Abbas stonewalled the negotiations and then blew them up so as to prevent getting even close to an agreement.
It is in that context that the discussions about settlements and the behavior of Israeli soldiers must be understood. The PA has demonstrated time and again that it doesn’t want peace or a two-state solution. What it wants is to keep the conflict just hot enough to prevent Abbas from being cornered into agreeing to peace but not so hot as to stop the Israelis from protecting him against his Hamas rivals or to force the U.S. and the Europeans from cutting off the flow of cash that allows the PA kleptocracy to exist.
Like the Palestinian children who are encouraged to pick fights with soldiers by flinging gasoline bombs and rocks in the hope the army will fire back, Abu Ein was sacrificed on the altar of the unending Palestinian war against the existence of Israel. Instead of blaming the Israelis, Palestinians need to look inward and ponder the political culture they have created that makes it impossible for their leaders to consider peace on any terms but the destruction of Israel no matter where its borders are drawn. Until that changes, there will never be an end to such confrontations and the inevitable casualties that follow from them.