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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Mahmoud Abbas Fears an Armed Intifada in the West Bank

Filed under: Palestinians

Mahmoud Abbas Fears an Armed Intifada in the West Bank
Weapons seized by the IDF from wanted Palestinians in the Jenin area, August 24, 2022. (IDF Spokesperson)
  • Senior Palestinian Authority officials accuse Israel of responsibility for the recent wave of terrorism in the West Bank and claim that the primary catalyst is the entry of IDF forces into city centers and refugee camps.
  • Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is concerned that the recent escalation in the West Bank could undermine the stability of his rule if it spreads to all areas of the West Bank.
  • The PA chairman opposes a third intifada and fears it will topple his rule. The important thing for him now is to keep his throne and transfer power in an orderly manner to his heir apparent, Hussein al-Sheikh.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi attacked those he holds responsible for thwarting terrorism in the PA – the PA Security Forces themselves.

“Part of the increase in terrorism stems from the incompetence of the Palestinian security forces,” Kochavi said on September 5, 2022. “The lack of governance of the [Palestinian] forces in certain areas of the West Bank constitutes fertile ground for the growth of terrorism.” Since the end of March, he stated, “about 1,500 wanted persons were arrested, and hundreds of attacks were thwarted.”1

The PA rejected the chief of staff’s remarks and has a different explanation for the spread of terrorism.

Senior PA officials accuse Israel of responsibility for the escalation and the recent wave of terrorism. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas sent messages to the United States and the European Union that the escalation of violence stems from the fact that IDF forces regularly enter the centers of Palestinian cities in Area A and the refugee camps, causing friction with the Palestinian militants.

“Israel should stop these infiltrations into PA territory and let the PA’s security forces deal with the situation,” stated a senior Fatah official.

He said the Palestinian militants claimed to be protecting the local population from the IDF. However, he admitted that there was coordination between Islamic Jihad and Hamas on the ground, which sought to inflame the area and destabilize Abbas’ rule.

Senior Fatah officials say that it is still possible to contain the violence in the northern West Bank areas of Nablus and Jenin and prevent the wave of terrorism from spreading southward toward Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Hebron.

Still, Israel must be cautious not to expand the cycle of violence and drag other groups in the West Bank population into taking violent actions. Israel should be especially wary of collective punishment in the West Bank. The older Palestinian generation among the Palestinian public still remembers the dire economic consequences of the second intifada in 2000 and does not want to return to that situation.

Today, tens of thousands of Palestinians from Judea and Samaria work in Israel daily, and they want this condition to continue. Livelihoods and the economic situation are at the forefront of the Palestinian public’s minds in the territories. This public understands that Israel is in an election campaign; on the other hand, 87-year-old Abbas is facing retirement from the political system. Until the battle for succession in the PA is decided and a successor to Abbas is legally elected in a general election, there is no resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the political horizon.

During the second intifada, Abbas said an armed intifada against Israel was a big mistake. Instead, he promoted the alternative idea of “peaceful popular resistance,” i.e., a popular struggle that included throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, demonstrations, and marches without the use of firearms.

On November 2, 2012, Abbas granted an interview to Israel’s Channel 2 TV in which he pledged that as long as he was PA chairman, there would be no third intifada against Israel.

“We don’t want terrorism, and we don’t want to use force and weapons,” Abbas stated in the interview. “We want to use diplomacy, politics, negotiations, and peaceful resistance.”

Survival and Power Are the Important Things

According to senior PA officials, the PA chairman is not concerned that the intifada will spread south from the northern West Bank to Ramallah and overthrow his rule. The Palestinian security forces control the situation. Abbas felt secure enough to go to Egypt this week and will travel to New York to participate in the UN General Assembly discussions.

Unlike Yasser Arafat, who rode the terror tiger, Abbas does not want to end his political career with blood, fire, and smoke. For him, the most important thing is to maintain the stability of his rule and to transfer power in an orderly manner to his intended successor, Hussein al-Sheikh, without shockwaves.

Hussein al-Sheikh with Chairman Mahmoud Abbas
Hussein al-Sheikh with Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Palestinian press)

According to Fatah sources, Abbas and Hussein al-Sheikh, considered his loyalist, signed an agreement whereby al-Sheikh guaranteed that after Abbas departed from the political stage, his family’s economic empire would be preserved and Abbas’ two sons would not be harmed, which are the essential things for Abbas.

Mahmoud Abbas, his wife (front row, bottom right), son Yasser (top left), son Tareq (top right), and their families. Photo taken in 2005.
An Abbas family portrait, 2019.2

A Wave of Terrorism and Not an Intifada

Sources in the Fatah movement claim that the recent wave of violence is tantamount to venting hot air and releasing pressure. However, it is not the beginning of a new intifada.

According to them, the Palestinian street in the West Bank is not interested in an intifada now and knows there is no purpose to the current wave of violence and that it will eventually disappear.

“An intifada is a political, social, military, and mental state,” explained a senior Fatah figure, “which requires a national consensus of all the factions and the implementation of this consensus in all aspects of life.” He continued, “This is not the case today, and if Israel does not act stupidly, we will not sink to that situation.”

Today, there is no united leadership that will lead an intifada. Abbas strongly opposes it, and the military power of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the West Bank is not sufficient to trigger an armed intifada against Israel without Fatah.

Palestinian society is divided without a national consensus. Abbas rejected all the demands of senior Fatah figures to implement the recent decisions of the PLO’s Central Council to suspend the Oslo Accords and freeze security coordination with Israel. He is not interested in escalation and an armed intifada.

In Abbas’ assessment, the wave of violence and terrorism will eventually subside.

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