The Palestinian Authority is once again trying to divert attention from its problems at home, and the best way to do this is being escalating tensions with Israel - the Palestinian Authority’s policy since its inception after signing the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993.
To distract attention from charges of financial corruption and embarrassing sexual scandals, the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank has stepped up its anti-Israel rhetoric. Allegations of “ethnic cleansing,” “destruction and desecration of Islamic religious sites,” “apartheid,” “racism,” “land theft” and “conducting medical experiments on Palestinian prisoners” are directed every day toward Israel by Abbas and his top officials and spokesmen.
These charges are often backed up by threats to launch a “third intifada” or to resume suicide bombings against Israel.
Given Abbas’s growing predicament, the likelihood of a new wave of violence in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip seems to be more realistic than ever.
Yasser Arafat was the first to employ this policy to divert attention from the fact that his regime was stealing hundreds of millions of dollars of international aid to the Palestinians. Almost each time that the issue of financial corruption and bad government was raised, Arafat and his aides would step their rhetorical attacks on Israel under various pretexts. The incitement, which in the beginning led to periodic outbursts of violence against Israelis, finally saw the eruption of the second intifada. Now Mahmoud Abbas and his administration in the West Bank are employing the same policy.
In recent months, Abbas has been facing growing criticism from many Palestinians who, on the one hand accuse him of turning a blind eye to corruption in the Palestinian Authority and, on the other hand, denounce him as a “puppet” in the hands of Israel and the US.
The main complaint against Abbas - as one of his former intelligence officials put it - is that he has “surrounded himself with the same thieves and corrupt guys who used to work for Yasser Arafat.” The most recent cases of sexual and financial corruption in Abbas’s administration (which were revealed by the former intelligence official, Fahmi Shabaneh and have become to be known as “Fatahgate”), have caused irreparable damage to his standing and reputation.
The Palestinian Authority is now searching for any excuse to increase tensions with Israel, hoping that this will invite outside pressure on the government of Binyamin Netanyahu to make as many concessions as possible.
Netanyahu’s recent decision to include two religious sites in Israel’s national heritage list is already being exploited by Abbas’s government to send schoolchildren in Hebron and Bethlehem to throw stones and firebombs at Israeli soldiers.
Abbas is also hoping that renewed violence on the streets of the West Bank and the Old City of Jerusalem will force the US Administration to get more involved in the Israeli-Arab conflict.
The Palestinian Authority is not pleased with the US Administration’s attitude toward the conflict and would like to see President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton obsessed only with what’s going on between Israelis and Palestinians.
Arafat had also hoped to use the second intifada to force the Americans and Europeans to step up the pressure on Israel. However, his hopes faded as he lost control over the violence, which rapidly turned into an armed assault on Israel.
Yet Abbas is no fool. He knows that even if he were to sign a peace agreement with Israel, he would never be able to sell it to the Palestinians, let alone implement it when Hamas won’t even allow him to return to his home in the Gaza Strip.
In the past few years, Abbas’s credibility among Palestinians has suffered one blow after the other - from his controversial decision to ditch a motion at the UN in favor of endorsing the findings of the Goldstone Report into Operation Cast Lead to the recent “Fatahgate” scandal.
Abbas is currently searching for ways to avoid the pressure from home so that he will be able to hold on to power for as long as possible. And he has clearly discovered that the best way to survive is by directing the heat toward Israel.