Between the Scylla of the PA and the Charybdis of Hamas
Some months ago, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Ganz invited Palestinian Authority (PA) strongman Mahmoud Abbas to his home for dinner. Despite the fact that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Israel Police work with Abbas’s police force on a regular basis, the vision of a meal in Ganz’s home was disconcerting; too personal, too cozy. Dinner with a man who regularly incites violence against Israeli citizens and pays for acts of terror seemed a step too far.
There were, apparently, no flies on the wall, and nothing appears to have leaked. But as violence in Israel increases, the Israeli government’s intention has become clear. Sitting between the PA as Scylla and Hamas as Charybdis, Israel will choose Scylla.
Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, is waging war against both Israel and the more nationalist PA. Israel’s goal is to ensure that Hamas does not oust the PA from the West Bank, putting Islamist radicals on both sides of the Jewish state. It would have been easier had Abbas been less of a corrupt dictator and had he encouraged Palestinians to work with Israel in the 16 years since his first -- and last -- election. But he didn’t.
In a brief and bloody civil war, Hamas threw the PA out of Gaza in 2007 and established its own crushing and corrupt version of Palestinian governance. It is now determined to take over the West Bank -- starting with the holy sites in Jerusalem, particularly the mosque on the Temple Mount. The challenge to Abbas has always been there, but only last year did Hamas bring its operatives out in the West Bank and in Jerusalem with flags flying -- announcing that Hamas was staking a claim to territory there.
The second war is against Israel. Not a grab for territories, but a war against the existence of the State of Israel and its people. Not only is Hamas taking the “River to the Sea” position, but it is working with Iran to smuggle weapons into Israel proper and incite Israeli Arabs to violence against their fellow citizens. Americans should note that Iran has had billions of dollars restored by the Biden administration over the past 15 months, and it is spending them on more than just nuclear capabilities. Forget about the Sunni-Shiite split. Iran has long supported Sunni jihadists in the Middle East and Africa. After a funding hiatus, because Hamas wouldn’t support Iran’s war in Syria, Iran has a priority list and the attacks against Israel are at the top.
Abbas and the PA are playing “catch up” with Hamas and Iran.
From a long-ago position as guarantor of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which promised self-governance to the Palestinian Authority -- never statehood or independence -- the PA has expanded its goals and operations. Going full-tilt after canceling the 2021 Palestinian elections, PA television was full of speeches and music videos promising glory for those who killed Jews. A music video was repeatedly broadcast in which Palestinians declared, “I fired my shots, I threw my bomb, I detonated, detonated, detonated my [explosive] belts. …My brother, throw my blood on the enemy like bullets.” Abbas’s religious affairs advisor told viewers, “Islam does not want you to be submissive to others,” and “if you die fighting, you go to paradise; if you kill the enemies, they go to hell.”
Hamas began firing rockets into Israel in April 2021. The “rocket war” ended in an Israeli-Hamas ceasefire, but the underlying civil war and the war against Israel remain in place. This Spring, both Hamas and the PA have fanned the flames of violence against Israel, and both are taking the hardest line possible. And after the clashes in Jerusalem, Hamas again began firing rockets into Israel.
Not willing to cede ground to Hamas in the propaganda war, Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said last week, "This is not a disputed land. Palestine belongs to the Palestinians, and this occupied land will be liberated. Jerusalem is ours, and Palestine is ours."
Despite Shtayyeh’s rhetoric, Israel will continue to provide security assistance to the Palestinian Authority police and continue to arrest and remove Hamas from the mosque on the Temple Mount regardless of the bad publicity. Israel will continue to provide funds to the PA, regardless of the terms of Israeli legislation that forbids such payments as long as the PA pays “salaries” to terrorists and their families. Israel will continue to patrol the waters off the Gaza Strip to interdict weapons coming from Iran. Israel will continue to prop up Abbas.
As Israel sails between Scylla and Charybdis, from Jerusalem’s point of view, better Scylla. Hence Ganz’s dinner with Abbas.
Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center and editor of inFOCUS Quarterly.
Image: Public Domain