No word of condemnation has come from any Palestinian leader for the murders of two Israeli soldiers two days apart by West Bank Palestinians: Saturday, Sept. 21, Sgt. Tomer Hazan, 20, from Bat Yam, was found murdered in a water hole near the West Bank town of Qalqilya. Sunday, another 20-year old, 1st Sgt. Gal Koby from Tirat Hacarmel, was killed by a single Palestinian sniper’s bullet while on guard at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
The silence from Ramallah is well-orchestrated, a signal that Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, is in favor of picking off Israeli soldiers every few days, so as to boost his hand in the US-sponsored negotiations with Israel.
Those talks have not advanced an inch, since the parties remain entrenched in their widely separate positions.
Three months into the talks initiated by US Secretary of State John Kerry, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho for Israel and the Palestinian Saeb Erekat have not even agreed on an agenda.
On Sept. 8, Livni proposed a working agenda of 17 items. The Palestinians countered with an agenda of six items, all them relating to the most contentious “core issues” of the dispute.
Livni’s list was dictated to her by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. She does not see eye to eye with the prime minister on Palestinian policy or negotiating tactics, but is bound to follow his guidelines or quit.
After presenting their conflicting agendas, the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators fell to an argument about priorities – security first, said the Israelis; borders, said the Palestinians.
The Israeli side explained that agreement on credible security arrangements would determine the location of borders; whereas the Palestinians insisted on reversing the order. They cited Secretary Kerry as having promised them explicitly that the pre-1967 boundaries would be adopted as the borders of the future Palestinian state.
Kerry has avoided putting any US position paper on the table in the absence of an American participant in the talks.
This absence was the result of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s objections to former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk’s presence in the role of special US envoy. He maintained that the negotiations should be conducted directly and bilaterally between Israel and the Palestinians without US intervention.
Netanyahu in any case never got on with Indyk during his years as ambassador a decade ago.
The row over the rival lists erupted shortly after the prime minister told Livni and Molcho to put on the table what he called “Israel’s last offer” which was to withdraw from 60 percent of the West Bank in favor of a Palestinian state.
This plan would have saved him having to evacuate a single Jewish settler from Judea and Samaria. No one outside Netanyahu’s inner circle expected anything less than a brusque Palestinian refusal to even discuss the offer. His action was widely seen as an inexplicable blunder.
Since it became clear that the negotiations with Israel were going nowhere, tensions have been rising in the Palestinian arena. Until now, Kerry has been able to keep a heavy iron lid on tensions – mainly by forbidding both parties to utter a word on the state of the talks, on pain of US reprisals.
This hush enabled the US Secretary to maintain the appearance of progress in the Middle East talks, and the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to look after their own political affairs.
Netanyahu, by maneuvers for avoiding the surrender of a single settlement, has preserved his government coalition intact. Abbas, acting through his henchmen, has let Palestinian terrorists partially off the leash – although for the time being only for attacking Israeli soldiers.
Like Arafat before him, Abbas does not issue written guidelines. He has used winks and nods from the right quarters to generate a permissive climate for terrorist action. Provided they limit their targets to uniformed Israelis, it is given to understand that they will not be bothered by Palestinian security and intelligence agencies.
Those agencies certainly know the identity of the Palestinian sniper who shot dead the Israel soldier in Hebron Sunday. If ordered by the Palestinian leader, they could quickly lay hands on him and pass him on to the Israeli authorities. The Palestinian Authority’s failure to do so has forced a crack in Kerry’s lid on the bubbling Palestinian stew. It remains to be seen whether or not Abbas continues to let the deadly attacks on Israeli soldiers continue, or even expand them. If he does, Netanyahu will have to turn away from domestic politics and give serious attention to countering the resurgence of Palestinian terror.