As part of its effort to de-escalate tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, the Biden Administration invited the two parties to a summit in Jordan on February 26 to discuss ways to “prevent further violence.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the meeting as a “positive step for Israelis and Palestinians.” U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said: “We recognize that this meeting was a starting point and that there is much work to do over the coming weeks and months to build a stable and prosperous future for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Implementation will be critical.”
If the Biden administration were serious about de-escalating tensions and preventing further violence between Israelis and Palestinians, it could have achieved this goal by demanding that Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas take action against the numerous armed gangs roaming Palestinian streets.
The Biden administration could at least have demanded that Abbas rein in the terror attacks against Jews instead of glorifying terrorists and rewarding them and their families financially as part of his “pay-for-slay” incentive to go murder Jews.
Instead of condemning terrorism, Abbas and senior Palestinian officials, including PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, regularly castigate Israel for launching preemptive operations to prevent terror attacks that harm its people.
The Biden administration seems not to understand that by failing to condemn the murder of innocent Israeli civilians, Abbas is signaling to his people that he has no problem with the terrorists so long as they target only Jews and not him.
The Biden administration also does not seem to understand that Abbas’ refusal to take any action against the Palestinian terrorists and armed groups is seen by his own people as a green light to continue targeting Jews—with knives, bullets, rockets, cars and stones.
Abbas is flagrantly acting in violation of the Oslo Accords Interim Agreement, signed in 1995 between Israel and the PLO. It states: “Except for the Palestinian Police and Israeli military forces, no other armed forces shall be established or operate in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”
Nearly 30 years later, not only do both the West Bank and Gaza Strip have dozens of militias and terror groups, worse, the Gaza Strip—which was handed by Israel to the Palestinian Authority in 2005—is currently controlled by terror organizations such as the Iranian-backed Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
If Abbas fears for his own life should he crack down on the terror groups in the West Bank, he should step aside and let the Israeli security forces do the job.
If, as some argue, the gangs and militias pose a threat to Abbas, he actually stands to benefit from Israeli counter-terrorism operations. By arresting, killing or disarming the terrorists, the Israeli security forces would be doing Abbas and his Palestinian Authority a great favor.
Instead of holding a summit in Jordan or any other country, the Biden administration needs to make clear to Abbas that he cannot have it both ways. He cannot turn a blind eye to the terror groups operating under his nose, and at the same time condemn Israel for launching counterterrorism operations to protect Jews and prevent further terrorist attacks.
So far, however, it does not seem that the Biden administration is applying any pressure on Palestinian leaders to end their terrorism.
Abbas sent his team all the way to Jordan to demand, among other things, not an end to terrorism, but instead an end to Israel’s efforts to combat terrorism. Abbas does not want Israeli troops to enter Palestinian cities and villages to arrest terrorists who are planning to murder Jews and who are reportedly undermining his own government.
In fact, Abbas is saying that the Israelis have no right to defend themselves or go after those who are planning to kill Jews. Meanwhile, he and his Palestinian Authority are showing no real intention or desire to curb the terrorists or disarm the Palestinian armed groups.
There was no need to hold a summit in the Jordanian Red Sea resort of Aqaba to understand that the latest wave of violence was initiated and carried out by the armed gangs and militias that continue to operate in areas under the control of Abbas and his security forces.
It is these gangs that are responsible for the ongoing wave of terrorism that has claimed the lives of Israeli Jews over the past year. In addition to killing and injuring Jews, the gangs are also responsible for increasing anarchy and lawlessness in parts of the West Bank, especially the Palestinian cities of Nablus and Jenin.
The major armed groups that arose in the West Bank under Abbas’ watch include: Lions’ Den, Battalion of Jenin, Brigades of Nablus, Battalion of Balata, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Al-Quds Brigades and Izaddin al-Qassam Brigades.
They consist of hundreds of gunmen affiliated with various Palestinian factions, including Abbas’ ruling Fatah party, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Some of the groups have been around for years, but intensified their attacks on Israel in recent months. Others are new and began operating in the West Bank only during the past year.
It is worth noting that on the same day as Abbas’ representatives were attending the U.S.-sponsored summit in Jordan’s Aqaba resort, his militia, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, claimed responsibility for 14 attacks against Israeli military targets in the West Bank.
Even more worrying is that Abbas’ Fatah militia has joined forces with Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists in the West Bank. This is dangerous. First, it means that Abbas is no longer in full control of his own loyalists; second, it means that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization, which is backed by Iran, could penetrate security forces of Abbas’ Fatah.
The U.S. State Department, after the summit in Jordan, published a “joint communiqué” that totally ignored the role of the Palestinian terror groups in the latest flare-up of violence. The communiqué did not include a commitment by the Palestinian leadership to rein in the terrorists operating in Palestinian-controlled areas. It did not include a demand to the Palestinian leaders to halt their poisonous incitement against Israel. It did not even call for Abbas to stop financially rewarding terrorists for murdering Jews.
The communiqué instead talked about the need for Israelis and Palestinians to “end unilateral measures for a period of three to six months.” The only measure it mentions, however, is the building of new housing for Jews.
The Palestinians are not required to combat terrorism or cease incitement against Israel. They are not required by the communiqué or anything else to get rid of the armed gangs and militias that rule their streets.
The Biden administration appears to believe that building a home for a Jew constitutes a greater threat than gangs and terror groups carrying out lethal attacks against Jews.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.