Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is being called to account by Israel for damages from kite bombs launched by Hamas while he seeks to contain the spread of protests from the Gaza Strip and Jordan to the West Bank.
Shlomi Eldar writes that Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman “reported to his party’s lawmakers that since the mass protests against Israel began along the border fence on March 30, the Palestinians had launched some 600 firebombs into Israeli territory. Israel intercepted about 400 using various technological means, while the rest landed and blackened 9,000 dunams (2,224 acres) of land, including crops and forests.”
Ben Caspit writes that the costs and panic caused by the kite bombs have seemed to neutralize developments involving Israel’s technological dominance and success against mortar attacks. “For the first time ever, Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system successfully shot down barrages of short-range mortar shells fired extensively by Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas at Israeli settlements adjacent to the border fence,” Caspit reports. “This significant achievement has flown under the radar because of the incendiary kites being launched from Gaza. For the past few weeks, Israel has been left helpless in dealing with the new Palestinian ‘weapon,’ which sets its fields and settlements on fire on a daily basis. … It doesn’t know what to do about kites flown from the Gaza Strip with flaming torches attached to their tails.”
Abu Mazen, as Abbas is known, can’t seem to win. While his people support the Gaza protests, his economic policies to pressure Hamas have made hardships there even more unbearable. His security cooperation with Israel is often perceived as a sign of weakness rather than strength. The quiet mediation efforts to de-escalate Israel-Hamas violence are also out of his control, another indicator of his limited leverage. Ahmad Melhem writes, “The desire of the parties to refrain from military escalation indicate that the word that circulated in Arab and Hebrew media circles in May about Egyptian and Qatari mediation attempts to conclude a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel to ease the siege on Gaza — which Al-Monitor reported on — is likely true.”
All Abbas can do, it seems, is appeal to the international community. Ahmad Abu Amer writes that the PA described the Israeli fines “as piracy and burglary of Palestinian public funds," which "affirmed that the Palestinian leadership will ask international institutions to not only respond to Israel’s piracy of the funds of the Palestinian people but to claim compensation for all they have suffered as a result of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.”
Meanwhile, Huda Baroud describes a Palestinian grass-roots charity, Forgive and You Shall Be Rewarded, which supports families of Gazans killed or injured in the border protests to get their debts forgiven or rescheduled; the charity also solicits donations to help pay off money that is owed.
Daoud Kuttab explains how Abu Mazen is further boxed in by the protests in Jordan, which forced the resignation of Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki. “The weeklong protests in Jordan against an income tax bill have captured the attention of many around the world because of its organizers’ discipline and civilized approach to the Jordanian police,” Kuttab writes. “Palestinians of all walks of life expressed their support and admiration of the success of Jordanian youths who stopped a fuel price hike, brought down a prime minister and influenced the king to appoint a new prime minister who is favorable to their demands. … But amid the support and admiration expressed over social media and in private talks, there has also been concern over the effects of the protests on the Jordanian state. … Their friend and neighbor's potential loss of this stability worries Palestinians. That the Amman-based demonstrators are of a socio-economic background similar to that of many Palestinians is a source of even stronger affinity. They are rooting for the success of both the Jordanian protesters and their government.”
Eldar adds that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to squeeze Abbas therefore may have disastrous and unintended consequences. “Israel is learning the hard way the repercussions of the siege it imposed on Gaza when Hamas ousted Fatah and took over the Strip in 2007,” Eldar writes. “Although the situation in the West Bank cannot be compared to the misery afflicting Gaza, the PA is also facing major economic challenges. When the wave of anti-Israel terror attacks known as the individual intifada broke out in November 2015, Israeli analysts attributed it to the difficult economic situation in the PA and the despair of unemployed young Palestinians. … Therefore, Netanyahu’s proposal to ‘fine’ the PA will not end the fire kites on the Gaza border, and it risks setting off another conflagration — this time in the West Bank.”
Eldar, in a separate article, describes how this all may redound to Hamas’ plan to expand the protests to the West Bank and undercut Abbas authority. “They were active in West Bank mosques during the entire month of Ramadan without anyone intervening,” Eldar writes. “The West Bank’s Preventive Security forces used to arrest Hamas activists for activities it deemed to run ‘counter to Palestinian interests.’ Now it is ignoring what is happening in the mosques, as well as Hamas' calls to young Palestinians to stand alongside their heroic brothers in Gaza and act. The message is clear: Identifying with the plight of Gaza cannot be relegated to the heart. It must also be expressed in actions. Based on the shifting mood in the territories over the last week, young Palestinians got the message and are responding accordingly.”
“Many Fatah supporters in the West Bank consider Hamas responsible for Gaza’s slow death and identify with the suffering of Gaza’s residents throughout all the years of the closure,” Eldar continues. “When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas imposed sanctions on Hamas that were harmful to the people of Gaza, protests against him in the West Bank were widespread and scathing. Nevertheless, the young people of the West Bank have been focused for years on their own miserable economic situation and the state of the Palestinian Authority (PA). All they know about Gaza's suffering and travails is what they have seen on television or heard from friends and family who live there.”
Eldar concludes, “Abbas' situation today is different from what it was in the past. For someone who is constantly being humiliated by the United States and Israel to order his security forces to fight against the outbursts of rage in the refugee camps could be seen as collaborating with the enemy. Abbas was once capable of dealing with the attacks against him and showed a statesmanlike political courage and wisdom in facing the wave of individual terrorism that broke out in October 2015. This time, however, it doesn’t look like he is willing or able to do so. Abbas has not ordered that these incidents be stopped even though he considers Hamas (who threw Abbas’ people out of the Strip in 2007) to be the group most responsible for the current situation in Gaza. The security cooperation with Israel that Abbas once described as 'sacred' continues, but in keeping with his orders, the highest-ranking members of his security forces are prevented from cooperating openly with the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and Shin Bet. All coordination with the Israelis is very low key. … The problem is not just that Abbas is furious about Israel’s policy toward him. It is also that the IDF refuses to respect the restrictions placed on its activities in Area A by the Oslo Accord. According to Palestinian sources, IDF special forces makes arrests in territories under the security control of the Palestinians on an almost daily basis. Morale among the upper ranks of the Palestinian security forces is at a low reminiscent of the second intifada. They simply do not want to do all the work for what they call the ‘ungrateful’ Israelis.”
Akiva Eldar explains how these developments mandate a rethinking of an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. “No one is holding their breath in the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem or in the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah ahead of the expected presentation of US President Donald Trump’s 'ultimate deal' between Israelis and Palestinians, expected shortly after the holy Muslim month of Ramadan," Eldar writes. “For 51 years, Israel has tried in vain to create irreversible demographic facts in the West Bank and East Jerusalem by settling Jews there. Rather than fantasizing with him about pie-in-the-sky settlement blocs, Trump should bring Netanyahu down to earth to an agreement on two states for two people based on the June 4, 1967, lines and on agreed land swaps. This should be the Palestinian starting point in reaction to Trump’s much-touted peace plan. The alternative is not a DIY [do it yourself] border demarcation project and annexation of settlement blocs by popular demand. The death certificate of the two-state solution would signal the birth of an apartheid state solution — with Israeli Jews ruling over the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.”
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