Friday April 25, 2014
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25.04.2014
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'PA is inciting violence ahead of Obama's visit,' says Israel
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Yoav Limor

Walking through the mine field

There are many land mines currently in Judea and Samaria that are threatening to explode. The responsibility to neutralize them is divided equally between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Now they both must, according to senior officials on Sunday night, act with "a serious dose of reason and restraint."

The main obstacle is the issue of prisoners. Since the deal with Hamas to release captured soldier Gilad Schalit in Oct. 2011, in exchange for just over a thousand detainees in Israeli prisons, the PA has been castigated as a moderate power that essentially failed on the issue at the heart of the consensus on the Palestinian street. The accumulation of events, such as the renewed detention of several prisoners released in the framework of the Schalit deal, hunger strikes by administrative detainees and the death of the prisoner Arafat Jaradat, have given the Palestinian Authority something to latch onto. On Sunday night, events were still under control; but there is one more issue that has the potential to explode: the economic situation in the West Bank. In the absence of commerce and industry, the main engine of enterprise is the public sector. But through its inexplicable decision to delay the transfer of tax funds to the Palestinian Authority, Israel cut public employees' salaries for months. The immediate impact is economic and moral, but in the future it may also result in damaging the security cooperation.

Also, the ongoing activities of the extreme Jewish Right may ignite the West Bank. The village of Qusra, near Nablus in northern Samaria, has become a focus of friction, demanding a concerted effort by the Israel Security Agency and the Judea and Samaria police. Neither authority knows yet who shot the live fire over the weekend, which critically wounded a Palestinian. "Price-tag" incidents have the ability to ignite the area immediately, and unite those in the Palestinian street and the world against Israel.

There are other land mines: the PA's sense that Hamas is stronger after the Nov. 2012 Pillar of Defense Operation, and the PA's desire for a parallel situation; a lack of interest shown by the broader Arab and Western public toward the Palestinians on the backdrop of events in Syria, Tunisia, Libya and Mali; the failure to advance internal reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas; and the ongoing political stalemate with Israel.

All of these issues are present in the rise of violence in the West Bank, which is moderate at the moment but still clear and ongoing. We are not yet seeing a critical mass of events or the motivation to ignite another intifada, but in the words of the well-known cliché, the gas fumes are definitely accumulating in the air. Some of this is objective, but some of this is directly linked to President Barack Obama's upcoming visit to the region. Both the Palestinians and Israel are seeking to score points ahead of the visit, to better position themselves for negotiations, which many hope will be renewed once Obama leaves.

On the way to resumed negotiations, there are many strategic obstacles that present great danger. The Palestinians must, therefore, restrain the demonstrations. Israel must work to reduce the friction as much as possible. Only intelligent and integrated operations, both military and diplomatic, can succeed in preventing the threatening fire from breaking out.

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