Is Abbas “powerful” enough?

I haven’t spoken of the current terrorist campaign against Israel on this blog, in large part because I don’t feel like I have a lot more to add to this discussion than what’s already been said. There is one aspect of this latest Fedayeen assault wave that has been bothering me for some time and I haven’t seen any commentary on it yet, though that could be because it’s not of a very pressing importance.

Nonetheless, I think it’s instructive of the dynamics of the Arab-Israeli wars (or war?) and similar struggles, and especially of their repulsive but increasingly important “Public Relations” dimension.

Throughout the “Second Intifada,” and especially in its early stages, there was a running competition among most Western press organizations to try and absolve Yasser Arafat for any blame for starting that war or its continuation, usually by the expedient of repeating the PA’s claims that it was an entirely spontaneous “grassroots” campaign provoked by Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount. As the “uprising” dragged on for years and with the accumulation of ever-increasing evidence to the contrary, much of it actually predating the “Al-Aqsa Intifada” itself, the media narrative shifted.

Rather than claim the mass riots, numerous bombings and ubiquitous shooting attacks were just a constant loop of unorganized spur-of-the-moment homicidal madness, a new trend of pseudo-analysis regarding whether or not Arafat was able to control the violence, i.e., whether he had chosen to go to war or if he was ostensibly just powerless to stop or tone it down, began. Unfortunately, this stultified intellectual deadlock remained in place largely until Arafat’s death in November 2004, at which point the “debate” was simply allowed to disappear into the punditry ether.

Strangely enough, I haven’t seen that kind of desperate explanation, or much of anything like it, offered in support of Mahmoud Abbas despite the current political environment in the West actually being noticeably worse for Israel than in the early 2000’s. This might be because the PA’s sympathizers are confident enough in being able to influence politics and public opinion without having to resort to the kind of obfuscation that was necessary in Arafat’s dotage.

I personally feel it’s a combination of that and the surprising fact that the PA just isn’t that interested in hiding its “involvement in,” or instigation, support and leadership of, the “Knife Intifada.”

The overwhelmingly “low tech” nature of most of the attacks and the campaign itself (hence its name) despite the ready availability of firearms and explosives in PA-controlled areas and their regular use in the last conflict would seem to display a coordinated, well-organized “effort” on the part of the attackers. This would in turn to indicate a deliberate strategy of trying to resurrect the “Palestinian David vs. Israeli Goliath” underdog theme that worked so well for the PLO during the “First Intifada.”

There is also more compelling and direct evidence that the PA doesn’t particularly care if everyone knows they started this latest war, or even that they want it to be obvious that they did. That would be the actions and words of Abbas himself, who has made it nearly impossible for even the most blindly devoted Fatah supporter to pretend otherwise.

About the Author
Jonathan Turner is a writer and historian who lives and works in New York City. A former Fellow at the U.S. Department of State where he worked in Public Affairs, he is currently working on developing a think tank devoted to historical research, defense issues and foreign policy analysis called the Severn Institute.
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