The "moderate" Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has started to take a page from the playbook of his old partner, Yasir Arafat, and is moving away from diplomacy to violence to achieve his objectives. He is lighting the fuse for a third intifada.
It all began on Sept. 27 -- the eve of Yom Kippur when Arab rioters threw stones at French tourists on Temple Mount. Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall also became targets.
Abbas's Palestinian Authority, instead of helping to restore order, hailed the rioters as defenders of a holy Muslim site -- Al Aqsa atop the mount. It also engaged in incitement to further violence by falsely claiming that the French tourists were "extremist settlers" bent on conquering Temple Mount, which is under the administrative control of the Arab Wafq.
The ripple effects were immediate throughout the Muslim world. Jordan, which destroyed age-old synagogues when it controlled the Old City and banned Jews from praying at the Western Wall, had the chutzpah to call in the Israeli ambassador in Amman and chastise Israel for daring to put down riots.
In Istanbul, thousands of Palestinian sympathizers burned Israeli flags. In Israel, lawyers representing Arab parties joined in the incitement fray, calling for more confrontations and the firing of Jerusalem's police chief
Rioting resumed in the Old City during this last weekend, forcing Israeli police to shut down Temple Mount on Sunday. Police discovered wheelbarrows full of stones throughout the Al Aqsa compound, ready to escalate the rioting.
Still, Israel tried to accommodate Muslim worshipers and reopened Temple Mount and access to Al-Aqsa on Monday, Oct. 4 to men over the age of 50.
In turn, this prompted Abbas's "moderate" prime minister to issue a call on Arabs to "confront Israeli aggression" and to incite more violent riots by falsely claiming that Jewish prayer services were being held on Temple Mount. Abbas's PA issued a worldwide call for help "to halt Israel's efforts to Jewify the city."
To say the least, this is playing with fire. And Abbas knows it. So why is he treading so dangerously toward all-out violent confrontation with Israel?
As a weak, irresolute leader, he has allowed Hamas to pressure him to move toward a violent showdown with Israel. Since he doesn't have the stature and guts of a Mandela or Sadat, he also knows that the only way he can achieve peace diplomatically is to join Israel in arranging for painful concessions by both sides. Unwilling or afraid to compromise, a turn to violent strategy looms as the only card he's got left..
An immediate question: Where is the Obama administration? So far, it's fiddling while Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem are ready to explode. The only signal from the State Department has been one of weakness and appeasement. It issued an alert to U.S. travelers to avoid the Old City. Not a word of criticism of Arab rioting in the heart of Jerusalem.
But Obama can't have it both ways -- movement toward a two-state solution, while remaining mute at mounting provocations from Abbas and the Muslim world that are apt to light the fuse for a third intifada. It's not only a new security challenge to Israel. It's also a challenge to Obama's leadership and real intentions.