Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Abbas fans the flames

Abbas fans the flames

Dan Margalit

There is no reason to doubt the findings of the autopsy on the body of Palestinian detainee Arafat Jaradat that was conducted at the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute. A Palestinian pathologist was present during the autopsy. Although it is not clear what caused Jaradat's death, there are no signs that he was tortured during his interrogation. However, this fact did not prevent the Palestinian Authority from announcing that Jaradat was tortured by the Israelis.

The Palestinian Authority's message carried no medical weight, but it did have great diplomatic value. It sounded as if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had decided to take advantage of Jaradat's tragic death to launch a diplomatic offensive. Abbas is allowed to do this, but by doing so he is pushing Ramallah away from its declared intention of cooperation with Israel. The Palestinian Authority is intentionally fanning the flames of controversy.

Experts claimed on Sunday that the stones being thrown at Israel Defense Forces soldiers did not signal the start of a third intifada. But it should be noted that the experts did not foresee the start of the two previous intifadas. A traffic accident in the Gaza Strip (the start of the First Intifada) and then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount (the start of the Second Intifada) were not perceived in Israel as incidents that would trigger an outbreak of prolonged violence.

But even if both sides are currently interested in thwarting a new intifada, there is no doubt that a fundamental change has taken place. Palestinian strongman Jibril Rajoub went on Israeli Channel 2 on Sunday night to issue threats on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. When Channel 2 news anchor Yonit Levi suggested that Rajoub try to calm the situation, he did not abide.

It is reasonable to assume that Abbas does not want a new intifada to start. But he is apparently interested in ratcheting up the tension ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's upcoming visit to Israel on March 20.

But if Abbas has chosen to jump on the back of a tiger, he could end up losing control. There are Palestinian Authority officials interested in renewing violence against Israel and they are backed by Hamas in the West Bank. Also, incidents in which there are many victims on both sides could prompt an escalation that leads to the outbreak of an intifada.

Recent developments indicate significant frustration among the Palestinians. Israel has held up funds needed by the Palestinian Authority and the recent Knesset election prompted rhetoric that hurt the moderates in Ramallah. It also needs to be clarified whether Israel intends to impose a renewed prison sentence of up to 33 years on a Palestinian security detainee who violated the terms of his release in the Schalit deal.

On the other hand, it is clear that even if Abbas wants to resume negotiations with Israel, the steps he has taken recently have pushed that goal farther away. An escalation of violence would shift the focus away from meaningful negotiations to the question of how to simply stop the violence. Both sides would emerge as losers.

Moderates on both sides have an interest in restoring quiet until the establishment of the next Israeli government, and Obama's visit.