Palestinian Nights of the Long Knives

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"Cycle of violence" "period of calm" "peace process" "conflict containment" repeat over and over again. Cliches of conflict. When is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ever going to end? In this period of mutual Israeli-Palestinian anger and distrust setting a raging terrorist wildfire from the Temple Mount is child's play -- and child's terrorism. All it takes is one provocative rumor about Jews "defiling" the holy site to trigger Muslim extremists itching for a confrontation.
Palestinian President Abbas has made matters worse, falsely accusing Israel of "executing our boys in cold blood" and goading young Palestinians to sacrifice their lives decrying that "...Jews have no right to defile the Temple Mount with their filthy feet." These are the words of a desperate man who has outlived his capacity to lead a people in desperate need of new leadership.
In all the years of Israel's tortured existence with Palestinians nothing has prepared Israelis for this latest outburst of lone "kid wolf" Palestinian terror. Decades of shootings, missile strikes, bus bombings, kidnappings, and lethal stonings give way now to the latest Palestinian weapon of terror -- the ubiquitous kitchen knife. The threat of a deadly knife thrust from out of nowhere is a threat no one can fathom nor should be compelled to endure.
This tirade of terror is not a third Intifada - at least not yet. An intifada is organized and orchestrated. This is a case of cowardly Palestinian religious clerics - Palestinian and Israeli Muslim imams -- randomly egging on Palestinian teens to do their dirty work and stab an innocent unprotected Jew to "defend" the Temple Mount. How many of these young Palestinians have even visited Al Aqsa (Dome of the Rock) or even cared to pray there? I can count 'em on one hand. Palestinian parents must not let these extremists sacrifice their kids on a high altar of hatred.
Say what you will about the underlying social misery facing young Palestinians (which I know all too well and have worked to remedy for decades) but perhaps this lethal hunt for victims will lose its appeal when it seeps in to the young Palestinian mind that one can perish in the bargain...then the "killing sport" becomes less an act of ignorant-based defiance. In the meantime these young terrorists commit pathetic random acts of terrorism that are patently indefensible and inexcusable.
As is the case in any matter involving the volatile status of the Temple Mount neither Israel nor the PA have clean hands.
Several months ago, a self-anointed Israeli religious extremists declared an end to the long-standing rabbinical prohibition proscribing Jewish prayers on the Temple Mount which had been honored since Israel captured the old city of Jerusalem in 1967. Whoever was this foolhardy religious authority who issued this Judaic fatwa enabled the status quo to be broken as Israeli authorities apparently looked the other way. I haven't been able to discover who this instigator was. As soon as the Israeli pilgrimage began in earnest Palestinians responded.
It was provocative enough that Jewish prayer services migrated from the Western Wall to the Temple Mount itself - a blatant violation of that status agreement governing the site. Moreover, the 1967 Temple Mount status agreement also prohibited Israeli forces from entering the Al Aqsa Mosque. So when Palestinian youths commenced smuggling firebombs and rocks into Al Aqsa to launch attacks against Israelis, Israel's police had no alternative but to enter Al Aqsa to remove the squatters and their weapons.

At a time of growing Palestinian despair--when cooler heads should prevail to tamp down the violence, Palestine is a rudderless ship floating aimlessly from one rocky shoal to another. Highly unpopular and increasingly irrelevant Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas finds himself isolated from a people who reject him as a weak and ineffective leader lacking courage, conviction, and foresight to navigate Palestinians to a promised land of sovereignty and international recognition consistent with its international commitments to Israel.
Having threatened a "bombshell" to disband the Palestinian Authority before taking the UNGA rostrum last week - he retreated from this idle threat since it was a foolish, empty gesture in the first place that further eroded his standing and credibility at home. Now, Abbas can't even get himself to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu to put the genie back in the bottle for fear that whatever little remains of his "street cred" would evaporate for meeting with the "enemy."
It is time for Abbas to go to enable Palestinians to have a new helmsman. But Abbas - long having forfeited electoral legitimacy - has steadfastly and selfishly refused to groom a successor. When Abbas goes as he surely must, the ruling Fatah Party will be split wide open in a struggle for power - a wholly avoidable outcome had Abbas cared more for his people than his waning power.
Ever since John Kerry foolishly declared last year he would produce an Israeli-Palestinian peace by sheer dent of his over-sized ego, Abbas has taken every short-cut to a dead-end for his people - with much incentive from a recalcitrant Netanyahu. He has played right into the hands of Israel's extremist right wing anti-two state bloc. Even before Kerry was compelled to declare defeat and leave the region with his tail between his legs, Abbas declared he would seek unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state from the UN.
Make no mistake about it - Kerry's doomed from the start belly flop into the deep end of the conflict helped produce this catastrophe as well - raising hopes and then dashing them like a meteor crashing to earth. Doubling down, Abbas then announced he would seek Palestinian admission to the International Criminal Court in order to bring war crimes against Israel. Internationalizing the conflict - from a Palestinian perspective - could have become a useful strategy if it was coupled with efforts to assure the all-too-critical Israeli political center that Palestinians would remain a viable partner for peace as it leveraged international support to bring legitimate pressure on Israel's government.
But Abbas blew that strategy apart. The more he upped the ante against Israel, the more he impressed Israelis what a weak, indecisive leader he had become. To those of us watching every one of his moves it became increasingly evident that Abbas was pursuing a strategy of unilateral recognition rather than a carefully-orchestrated campaign to compel a return to a viable bilateral negotiation. The first strategy is doomed to failure. The second strategy requires finesse and political dexterity - of which Abbas has neither.
A few weeks ago, Abbas appeared before the UNGA and declared "the Occupying Power" was threatening Muslim holy places and that the PA would no longer honor the Oslo Accords. For now Abbas is walking a tightrope without much balance. Palestinian security forces are ordered to keep the lid on and continue security cooperation with Israel as he exhorts from the confines of the Muqata in Ramallah resistance to the Israeli occupation.
The Israeli government has a solemn duty and responsibility to maintain the 1967 Temple Mount status quo agreement. That means closing the Temple Mount to Jewish pilgrims forthright. Prime Minister Netanyahu has rightfully reigned in his Temple Mount agents- provocateurs and has belatedly yet forcefully taken charge since he, too realizes that a Temple Mount-instigated third Intifada must be avoided at all costs as anyone can see how little control Abbas now has over his increasingly desperate people.
In the sad arithmetic of the Arab-Israeli conflict it is the innocent who suffer. Moderates on both sides are losing ground to the extremists as the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin dies a slow death. A Palestinian homeland living peacefully side by side with a safe and secure Israel may sound like a pipe dream against the backdrop of this peculiar, chilling, and heartbreaking chapter in the struggle. The silent majority of Israelis and Palestinians who yearn for a settlement have nowhere to turn.
The current Israeli government under Netanyahu has zero intention to pump any oxygen to reach a settlement so one can argue Abbas has no alternative - but he does before he ruins his people's future. 

On the other side of the Green Line whether by default or by design Israelis look around them and view the Palestinians as they view the Syrians or Hezbollah, or Hamas - radicalized and unwilling to accept Israel's right to exist. The unacceptable occupation of the West Bank and the incessant encroachment of settlements - fact or threatened - accelerates and hardens the resentment and fear.

Alas, Netanyahu is no more a visionary than his Palestinian counterpart and Palestinians can no longer reach inside themselves to offer true compromise now - just as the Israelis no longer see a viable Palestinian partner what with the violence and Hamas in the way.
This stalemate compels a totally new paradigm. It is high time for the Palestinians to do a baton hand-off to their Arab benefactors who support the Saudi-developed Arab Peace Process (API) to break the bilateral stalemate and create a totally new framework for negotiations. Despite all the turmoil around it Israel should take a hard, new look at the API that could resuscitate a real Israeli-Arab rather than merely an Israeli-Palestinian peace that no longer leaves the fate of a moribund peace process in the hands of two adversaries trapped in their own policy straight jackets. A complete settlement with Sunni Arab states in this unbridled turmoil in the Middle East is not a mirage, but a real possibility if Israel had the will to pursue it.
Netanyahu and his coalition believe that "containing" the Palestinian situation is Israel's only recourse. But containment is doomed as well - it is a dead end that only creates more anger and resentment among Palestinians. Case in point: this unprecedented wave of fear that is transforming every Israeli into a potential vigilante.
Israelis deserve much better than having to endure nights of the long knives - and that requires new policies that provide renewed reality that a solution is feasible - not idle leftist naïve hope based on old, discarded formulas that are easily dismissed by exhausted Israelis as mere pipe dreams.
The majority of Palestinians -- who may not now embrace a "peace" with Israel -- are nevertheless ready for a peaceful divorce - internationally supervised with Israel's full involvement until that "divorce" compels them to embrace a reasonable existence with Israel - however many decades that may require.
The ashes are waiting for something to rise from them.
I remain a passionate, coldly realistic Zionist who just as fervently believes that Palestinians deserve a state of their own that is peaceful, prosperous, and poses no further threat to Israel. I refuse to succumb to the enemies of peace. Good Palestinians and good Israelis need hope now more than ever.
Where are those leaders?
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