by Zalman Shoval
Abbas knows well that considering Hamas' rise in popularity and expanded activity in PA territory, it's doubtful he'll be able to keep his relatively secure presidential seat without Israel's cooperation.
The incident in which Palestinian Authority official Ziad Abu Ein died of a heart attack occurred at a very problematic time for Israel, as current circumstances necessarily entail diplomatic and PR complications that among other things, play directly into the Palestinian strategy. This strategy seeks to move the focus of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from direct negotiations to the international field.
The threat -- or, more accurately, half-threat for mainly internal PA purposes -- by PA President Mahmoud Abbas to stop security cooperation with Israel following the death does not stem from a real desire to return to the days before the current arrangement. Moreover, the arrangement serves the Palestinians' interests no less that it does Israel's, and possibly more. Indeed, Abbas knows well that considering Hamas' rise in popularity and expanded activity in PA territory, it's doubtful he'll be able to keep his relatively secure presidential seat without Israel's cooperation. But Abbas' goal was and remains to promote his diplomatic gambits at the U.N. and the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He is also courting the international and inter-parliamentary arena, mainly in Europe, which tends to identify almost automatically with the Palestinian position and happily believes every claim made against Israel.
From this perspective, the disastrous results of the Abu Ein incident directly benefit Abbas. The Palestinians are also betting that the U.S. war on the Islamic State group and its desire to win broad Arab support for it will make it difficult for America to remain indifferent to the storm of emotion -- real or not -- that is raging in the Arab public following Abu Ein's death. So the meeting that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry scheduled with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Rome today will discuss, among other things, the incident's diplomatic ramifications.
Kerry and Netanyahu will also try to reach a formula that will prevent the Europeans joining the Arabs in a proposal to the U.N. Security Council that will declare the establishment of a Palestinian state in two years or -- in a supposedly "softened" version -- an end to the Israeli "occupation" by that same date. While Washington opposes that initiative and has said so to the Palestinians and the Europeans, it is not hiding the fact that it is very uncomfortable in the position of "holdout" that will have to veto the Palestinian proposal. It's even more difficult for the U.S. if the proposal is submitted by Jordan, an important ally for the U.S. in its fight against Islamic State.
Finding a rescue formula in the fly-by Rome meeting won't be easy, not for Kerry and not for Netanyahu. No one will show any interest in the question of what exactly a minister, known by some in the media as a "man of peace," was doing at a violent clash with IDF soldiers provoked by Palestinians. Nor will anyone address the fact that if the Palestinian demonstrators hadn't prevented an Israeli medic from treated Abu Ein immediately, he might still be alive. The framework has been cast and it serves our enemies' and critics' goals very well. Abbas has no interest, even if only to preserve his own interests, in a collapse in security in the West Bank, but he does have a stake in constantly increasing the tension. From this point of view, Abu Ein's death, like the incidents on the Temple Mount, meets his needs and his goal of winning broad international consensus for the move and date he has set.
Nevertheless, even the Palestinian threat of stopping security coordination with Israel raises another question, which lies at the heart of any future peace deal: if it's so easy for the Palestinian side to unilaterally revoke a security arrangement, how can Israel trust that any security condition -- including demilitarization of Palestinian territory and a ban on ties with foreign armies or related group -- will be effective and implemented properly if Israel does not maintain a security presence throughout the planned Palestinian state?
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