PMW op-ed: Killing of Israelis must be timed just right, says the PA
Just a question of timing?
When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently spoke in Washington and publicly condemned the killings of four Israelis by Hamas terrorists near Hebron, it generated a feeling of cautious optimism: “What happened yesterday and what is happening today is also condemned. We do not want at all that any blood be shed, one drop of blood, on the part of the – from the Israelis or the Palestinians,” Abbas said.
After years during which glorifying terror and honoring terrorists has been a backbone of PA culture, was this statement heralding real change? Unfortunately, an examination of the internal PA responses to the attack, when not under the watchful eyes of Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu and the world media, quickly erased hope that the PA had distanced itself from terror.
A comparison by Palestinian Media Watch (www.palwatch.org) of the PA response to the murders of four Israeli civilians to their reaction to the deaths during the flotilla confrontations, emphasizes that the PA’s response to Hamas’s attack was not a condemnation of terror or violence at all.
The central and recurring theme of PA leaders and PA-controlled media in response to Hamas’s attack was criticism of the timing of the attack because of the damage done to the Palestinian cause, and not criticism of the killings themselves. The PA’s central and recurring theme in response to the deaths on the flotilla was strong condemnation of what the PA repeatedly defined as “a massacre” and “a crime.”
The day after the Hamas killings, official PA media reported that “Prime Minister Dr. Salam Fayyad said that the operation which took place tonight in the Hebron area and its timing, harms the efforts being made by the PLO to gather international support for the Palestinian position… He said: ‘We condemn this operation, which contradicts the Palestinian interests and the efforts of the Palestinian leadership to gather international support...’” [PLO news agency Wafa, Aug. 31, 2010]
Abbas, when he returned to Ramallah, like Fayyad, lashed out at his political rival, Hamas, for the timing of the shootings: “He [Abbas] said that the recent shooting operations in the West Bank did not constitute resistance: ‘… For why isn’t [Hamas] resistance happening every day, and isn’t happening at all, except on the day we went to negotiations?!… Why did resistance become legitimate only today?” [Al- Ayyam, Sept. 6, 2010]
The PA Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud Al-Habbash in his Friday sermon after the killings continued this PA line as he condemned the timing, even accusing Hamas of trying to help Netanyahu: “What is the secret of the timing for carrying out armed operations in the West Bank? We want to know the secret of the timing… Suddenly! – the moment that President Abbas reaches Washington, the moment that Netanyahu finds himself in the corner, pressed, forced to adapt and accommodate himself to the international approach, suddenly there is a respite for Netanyahu, and the Palestinians are in distress [because of the attacks]…” [PA TV (Fatah), Sept. 3, 2010]
SO THE PA objected to the timing of the killings. Actually, were the PA sincere in their intention to condemn the killings, the attack in Hebron was a great opportunity for them to send a clear message to their people that violence is wrong and immoral. If it was violence that they wanted to condemn, timing could not have been better. Yet, none of the PA leaders seized this opportunity to condemn violence because it is wrong.
When the Palestinian Authority wants to send a clear message and seriously condemn what it perceives as terror, it knows how to do it. After the flotilla confrontation in May, the PA controlled daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida in a series of articles called Israel “pirates, murderers, barbarians, transgressors of international law, lacking any connection with humanity,” [June 3] and referred to Israeli conduct as “more than piracy and more serious than a massacre in its ugliness and its inhumanity. It is worse than a crime… a gang dressed up as a state,” [June 5] and called to “protect humanity from Israeli fascism… Another barbaric Israeli massacre, bringing shame upon humanity and the civilized world… Israeli savagery… a massacre against humanity.” [June 1] Tayseer Tamimi, then PA Chief Justice of Religious Court “denounced the shameful crime,” [Al- Hayat Al-Jadida, June 5, 2010].
Abbas himself demonstrated that when motivated, he too knows how to send a clear message of condemnation.“Israel has carried out a great crime” [Al-Ayyam, June 17, 2010], he said, referring to “the killing of innocent people,“ [Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, June 27, 2010], terming it “premeditated and with determination to kill” [PA TV, May 31, 2010] and that Palestinians were “subjected to state terrorism” [Al- Hayat Al-Jadida, June 3, 2010].
WHEN THE PA wanted to condemn Israel’s conduct in the flotilla confrontations, the recurring themes were “a new crime”, “a great crime”, “a long list of crimes”, “enemy crimes”, as well as “massacre”, “bloody massacre” and “massacre against humanity.”
On the other hand, never once was the murder of four Israeli civilians called a “crime” and certainly not “a massacre.”
No PA leader condemned these killings saying simply that killing is wrong. In fact, even Abbas in Washington in his condemnation spoke not about a crime, a killing, or a shooting but chose to condemn “what happened yesterday.”
Confirming the perception that the PA has not ceased its terror glorification, the PA Minster of Prisoners visited the homes of prisoners serving life sentences for murder, right after the Hamas killings. The celebrations over Abbas’s “condemnation” of terror and the killing of Israeli civilians were clearly premature.
This PA focus on the timing of terror must be understood not as a shift in PA tactic but as part of the long-term ongoing Palestinian policy. Senior member of the Palestinian negotiating team, Nabil Sha’ath, after the Palestinian Authority called for the cessation of violence a few months ago, explained repeatedly that the “armed conflict” had to be temporarily put on hold “because of the inability to engage in the armed struggle, which has become undesirable now, although it is the right of the Palestinian people…” [May 20, 2010] “The current distancing from the armed struggle does not mean its absolute rejection … especially since the armed struggle at the present time is not possible, or is not effective…” [May 21] “It is our right to return to the armed conflict whenever we view that as our people’s interest.’” [June 7, all in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida]
THE WORST problem about the PA’s criticism of the timing of the Hamas attack is that far from being the condemnation of terror that the world cheered, it is just the opposite: it is a reiteration of terror. The message Palestinians take from their leaders following this murder of four civilians is that terror remains a valid political tool – when the timing is right and when there is political gain. As senior PA leader Muhammad Dahlan explained: “This [the violent resistance] is our right, a legal right. The international community affirms it for us. But it is the responsibility of the leadership to use it when it wants, in the proper place and at the proper time.” [PA TV (Fatah) July 22, 2009]
If the PA wants to be a peace partner it must sincerely renounce and condemn terror, and the PA must stop honoring terrorist murderers and turning them into Palestinian heroes. This must be done not in Washington but in the PA areas and in Arabic. If the PA continues to glorify terror and condemn only its poor timing, then Israel still does not have a peace partner.