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Palestinians? What Palestinians?

As Trump and Israel collude to sideline the PA, security forces will soon be unable to quell a looming uprising
Palestinians set fire to tires during a large protest in Hebron in February (photo credit: Thomas Coex/AFP)
Palestinians set fire to tires during a large protest in Hebron in February (photo credit: Thomas Coex/AFP)

Last Wednesday, Hussein Abu Ghosh, an 18-year-old Palestinian from the Kalandia refugee camp near Jerusalem, attempted a car-ramming attack near Kochav Ya’akov. Abu Ghosh had decided to commit a terror attack on the anniversary of the death of his cousin, also named Hussein Abu Ghosh, who was killed perpetrating a terror attack in Mevo Horon.

Several hours later, another Palestinian terrorist, from the village of Aboud north of Ramallah, opened fire on an Israeli army position. Several shooting attacks have taken place in recent weeks in the villages north of Ramallah. They join dozens of attempted terror attacks throughout that sector that were prevented in 2016. To this we should also add the dramatic increase in the number of stoning attacks in Judea and Samaria over the past month.

Although the writing’s on the wall, Israeli officials refuse to see it. The next outbreak of violence appears to be on the horizon, but the political echelon is dismissing it like an insect that can swatted away. Apparently, Donald Trump’s entry into the White House has reinforced the illusion that the Palestinian problem is going to vanish from the earth. Many hope or believe that Trump is bringing the Redemption closer, and expect him to magically make the conflict vanish from the agenda.

And indeed, it does seem that the Palestinians, as a nation, as an entity, are steadily disappearing from the political and media agendas in Israel. The conversation about moving the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is taking place between Washington, Jerusalem and Amman, while Ramallah remains on the sidelines.

The Israeli government is announcing expanded construction in the settlements, reaching agreements about Amona, and working on a law that legalizes illegal outposts — all this as if we were in a vacuum and the Palestinians did not exist. The most glaring example is the profusion of proposals offered to the residents of Amona concerning land that actually belongs to Palestinians — families, heirs of the owners — while the Palestinians themselves have been utterly left out of the debate. A real miracle from Heaven has caused the land on which Amona was built to become part of negotiations between the Israeli government and those who have settled there, without the land’s Palestinian owners being part of it.

The new American administration is also doing its bit, of course: It is delaying the transfer of 221 million dollars to the Palestinian Authority that the Obama administration approved in its final hours. There is no real communication between Trump and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), and at present Trump is considering measures against international organizations that recognize the Palestinians as a state.

But the Administration and Israel are missing the catch 22 for Israel. Abu Mazen’s incessant appeals to international bodies such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague, or this or that international convention or UN organization were a way to let off steam. In other words, the PA was offering a new option for Palestinian “resistance.” Instead of going out and committing terror attacks, shooting, or blowing things up, the Palestinian leadership pointed its population toward a new struggle: contacting international institutions. We can guess what will happen once the Palestinian public realizes that this channel has also been blocked with the kind help of President Donald Trump.

To all this, we can add the immense frustration of the public in the territories with the Palestinian Authority’s leadership and Fatah. Many of them are fed up with the PA and its failure to make progress, whether via international bodies or talks with Israel. While the Palestinian security services prevent terror attacks against Israelis in the West Bank and inside the Green Line almost every week, it’s clear to all that their ability to stop the approaching deluge is limited in light of the rising motivation.

It’s hard to predict what the first spark will be. The transfer of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could ignite a conflagration in which the Palestinian Authority and Fatah will take part. The Palestinian leadership has not hesitated to threaten an explosion if the move should indeed take place. It is getting inspiration from Jordan and Saudi Arabia, who have leveled harsh criticism at Trump’s intent to go through with it. If the leadership and the security services loosen the reins, we can expect Fatah’s Tanzim militants to enter the picture so as not to allow Hamas to take control over the area, among other reasons. From here, the road to mass demonstrations is short — even very short.

We can also guess that if Mahmoud Abbas, who is nearly 82 years old, can no longer function, there will be no signs of stability or calm on the ground. A scenario of mass popular protest, caused by the PA’s precarious situation the day after Abu Mazen’s departure and the lack of any hope of progress, sounds more likely.

But why frighten the public by ruining the hocus-pocus that has made the Palestinians vanish? After all, they are no longer there. They have vanished. If one of the terror attempts does succeed, Heaven forbid, we will remember they’re there, but then we will probably claim it as proof that “there is nobody to talk to.”

In the meantime, Israel’s various Houdinis, such as Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, and the rest of the people with magic solutions are working overtime to hoodwink the Israeli public. As long as the magic trick works, we can keep on talking about annexing Ma’ale Adumim and then applying Israeli sovereignty to Area C.

And what about the Palestinians (excuse me — the Arabs)? They will have to make do with limited autonomy and permits to pray on the Temple Mount. They should be grateful, since the situation in Syria is a good deal worse.

About the Author
Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.
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