Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has called on Palestinians to avoid an “escalation” with Israel in statements confirming that – for now – he will continue his role as a subcontractor of the occupation.
“We do not want a military or security escalation between us and them,” Abbas told a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee in Ramallah on Tuesday.
“All of our instructions to our security agencies, organizations, youth and people are that we do not want escalation, but we want to defend ourselves,” Abbas said.
Hundreds of Palestinians have been injured by Israeli live fire, rubber-coated steel bullets and other weapons during protests against the occupation in cities and villages throughout the West Bank in recent days.
Settlers have carried out widespread attacks on Palestinians and their property across the West Bank.
On Monday, Israeli forces shot dead 13-year-old Abdulrahman Obeidallah with a Ruger rifle in Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem.
Israel recently authorized the widespread use of the .22-caliber American-made guns, claiming they are less lethal than heavier ammunition.
Abbas’ comments also came after threats from an Israeli government minister that if Palestinian protests against the occupation continue, Israel could attack and devastate West Bank cities like it has Gaza in recent years.
Transport minister Yisrael Katz warned that Israel could launch a second “Operation Defensive Shield” – a reference to its massive assault that killed 500 Palestinians and destroyed large areas of the West Bank cities Jenin, Nablus and Ramallah in 2002.
In present-day Israel, anti-Palestinian sentiment is so intense – with mobs frequently shouting “Death to the Arabs” – that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing protests claiming he is not tough enough on Palestinian “terrorism.”
In order to appease his critics, Netanyahu is promising even harsher attacks on Palestinians, especially the beleaguered population of Jerusalem.
As a downpayment, his forces demolished the family homes of two Palestinians accused of attacks on Jews and partially sealed another. This is a form of collective punishment which violates international law.
The family members of Jews who kill Palestinians are never subjected to such punishment by Israel. Indeed, Jews who kill Palestinians are themselves usually granted impunity.
In this atmosphere, where Israel’s brutality is only set to claim more Palestinian victims – and likely to provoke more individual acts of violence by Palestinians in response – Abbas’ call for calm can be seen as very rational.
No one who remembers “Operation Defensive Shield” or who looks at Gaza can be in any doubt that Israel is ready, willing and able to kill hundreds or even thousands of Palestinians in order to quell resistance to its rule.
But there is a difference between choosing the right tactics for how to protest and resist, on the one hand, and opposing all resistance and even collaborating with the occupation, on the other.
On Monday, Israel arrested five Palestinians in the Nablus area who it claims carried out the killings of two Israeli settlers in the area last Thursday. Eitam and Naama Henkin were shot dead in their car, while their four children were left unharmed, by assailants who escaped without being seen by any witnesses.
The arrests came remarkably quickly, given that more than two months after Israeli settlers burned to death the Dawabsha family in the village of Dura, Israel still has not made any arrests and may even be protecting the killers.
Israel says all five of the Palestinians are members of Hamas. The movement’s spokesperson in the West Bank, Husam Badran, accused the Palestinian Authority of complicity in the arrests.
Citing local media reports, Badran said that one of the men who was arrested, Karam al-Masri, had been interrogated in his hospital bed by PA security agents just hours before Israeli undercover agents kidnapped him from his bed.
Badran said that this sort of security coordination with Israel was “treason.” Abbas, by contrast, has called his security apparatus’ ongoing cooperation with Israel “sacred.”
Comments by senior Abbas advisors blaming Hamas for the recent escalation will likely fuel suspicion that the PA is exploiting the events as part of its long-running effort to eradicate the rival movement from the West Bank.
Senior Israeli “defense officials” were reportedly meeting with PA counterparts Tuesday to coordinate their responses to the Palestinian protests.
Israeli analysts say Netanyahu is trying to avoid a major assault on the West Bank, not out of any mercy for Palestinians, but because Israeli leaders fear it could bring about the collapse of the ever-dependable PA.
Palestinian youths do not go out and face Israeli guns because Abbas orders them to do so, and they do not refrain from doing it when he pleads for them to stay home.
Palestinians are responding to the escalating violence and brutality of the occupation, the relentless seizure of their land and the fact that millions of them are shut out from Jerusalem.
It is this relentless and systematic Israeli violence that is the root of the occasional spectacular and gruesome outbreaks that have in recent days claimed Israeli and Palestinian lives.
Abbas may call for calm, but he offers Palestinians no other forms of resistance or mobilization, only capitulation.
He even opposes the BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – movement against Israel.
But the only way to avoid more bloodshed, which no decent person can want, is for Israel to end its violent rule over millions of Palestinians.
Endless negotiations and begging Israel’s staunchest supporters, financiers and armorers in Washington and Brussels to show Abbas some mercy and throw him some crumbs will not lead to freedom.
In the face of Israel’s overwhelming power, and its support from complicit governments, Palestinians do not have that many options.
But BDS remains the most effective and urgent set of tactics supporters of peace and justice around the world can use to help bring closer the end of Israel’s regime of apartheid, settler-colonialism and occupation.