The official Palestinian Auhtority media reported today (Wednesday) Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was not pleased with the rocket attack Tuesday night on the Israeli town of Sderot, but no Palestinian official, including Abbas condemned the attack.
“This was an unapproved operation,” declared PLO Chairman Abbas in a quick response to a reporter’s question about the Tuesday night attack, which did not injure anyone.
Dr. Abbas used a somewhat arcane Arabic term “‘amaliyya munfalita” which may be translated as “unusual operation” or “operational deviation” or even “rogue operation” to describe the rocket attack from PLO-controlled Gaza into the southern Israeli town.
“This is outside the consensus,” said Abbas, whose brief comment was carried at the start of the Wednesday morning news summary on Voice of Palestine Radio from Ramallah and as a brief low-level item on Palestinian television from near Abbas’s headquarters in Gaza.
The Palestinian leader said such an attack in the future would be “stopped by all means,” but he gave no details of how he would carry out the same promise that he has made before. As has been the pattern in previous attacks, Abbas also declined to condemn those who carried out the attack.
Abbas’s comment that the attack was “outside the consensus” was an apparent reference to the informal ground-rules for the “tahdiyya”-the one-sided “lull” or “cooling-off” declared last month in a summit in Cairo between the PLO and the Islamic terror groups HAMAS and Islamic Jihad.
Both Islamic groups have agreed in principle to join Abbas’s PLO as well as the Palestinian National Authority (PA), citing their similar strategic goals.
During the post-Cairo summit period, there have been more than 30 Palestinian attacks-ranging from shootings and road-side bombs to rocket launchings– as well as more than a dozen abortive attempts at suicide bomber attacks, some of the latter involving Palestinian children.
Speaking in a brief “stake-out”-type interview in Arabic as he was entering his car, Dr. Abbas did not condemn the attack or issue a call not to attack Israeli civilians, but he stressed that such actions did not serve Palestinian purposes.
“This does not serve the Palestinian cause,” declared Abbas, using a formulation that was often used by Palestinian officials during the tenure of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader who died in November.
In a step-or lack of steps-similar to Arafat’s policy, the rocket attack was not condemned or criticized in any prepared speech or in any official statement issued by the PLO or the Palestinian National Authority (PA), both headed by Abbas, and the attack itself was largely ignored.
In what may also be seen as another return to the Arafat media profile, Palestinian television has regularly been showing Abbas in largely ceremonial functions such as reviewing troops and holding meetings.
In today’s broadcasts, for example, Abbas’s short disapproving comment on the rocket attack was preceded by several minutes of film footage showing Abbas handing out “Star of Jerusalem” medals to old Palestinian generals.
Although Abbas has tempered some forms of Palestinian incitement against Israel in his state-controlled media-such as “martyr films,” he has allowed other forms of incitement against Israel and the United States to go largely unchecked, such as virulent mosque speeches and the wholesale publication of phony atrocity stories.
“Our enemies want to occupy Arab and Islamic lands under their leadership,” declared last Friday Sheikh Ibrahim Mudeiris, a charismatic mosque speaker employed and paid by the Palestinian Authority.
In recent weeks, Mudeiris and other mosque speakers (among them Jerusalem preacher Yousef Abu Sneina and Mufti Ikrema Sabri) broadcast by the PA official media have also recalled the need to recapture Arab population centers inside post-1949 Israel such as Haifa and the Gaililee.
Dr. Abbas, who is expected to visit the United States within a month, had promised both the United States and Israel that he would eliminate incitement against Israel and the United States. He has not done so.
The repetitive, gory and sensational films of bloodied real-life “martyrs” or of beautiful women coaxing young boys to die as “martyrs” has largely been taken off Palestinian television, but there are still regular showings of children in caskets or the lionizing of young men killed while trying to infiltrate into Israeli-held territory.
In addition, Palestinian radio and television continue to promote the idea that Israeli government officials are plotting with “Jewish extremists” to destroy Islamic holy places, even as the Palestinian media and official PA textbooks scoff at the idea that there was ever a serious Jewish presence in Jerusalem.
The Jewish temples of Solomon and Ezra are regularly dismissed by the Palestinian media with the Arabic phrase “al-heikal al-maz’oum”: “the supposed temple.”
Similarly, the Palestinian media and Palestinian text books (introduced in 1996 and 2000) refer to the Tomb of Rachel (recorded as a Jewish matriarch in the Bible) as being the tomb of “Bilal bin-Ribah.”
Since his selection in January as Palestinian successor to Yasser Arafat, Abbas has let certain kinds of incitement-such as broadcast mosques speeches-go unchecked.
“Our enemy has become strong and fed on us like prey in our lands in the East and in the West because we are weak, and our only strength lies in the Quran.” declared Sheikh Mudeiris in his mosque speech in Gaza.
The mosque preacher declared that the un-named enemy-which was clearly meant to be America and Israel-had deliberately tried to cause “civil war” among the Arab world. Abbas himself told Egyptian journalists last month in Arabic newspaper interviews that any attempts by him to rein-in Palestinian militants would lead to “civil war.”
“Our enemies have succeeded in stirring up strife between us and our Arab brothers,” asserted Sheikh Mudeiris. His comments seemed an extension of Abbas’s retort to American and Israeli complaints about Palestinian incitement and lack of serious action against Palestinians amassing arms and explosives.
In recent speeches, Sheikh Mudeiris has also repeated charges that Israel is plotting attacks on Islamic holy places-a theme he mentioned tangentially last Friday in a speech dedicated to the birthday of Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
Similar comments have been voiced repeatedly by Prime Minister Ahmad Qreia (also known as Abu ‘Ala) and chief PA negotiator Saeb Arikat.
Dr. Michael Widlanski is a specialist in Arab politics and communication whose doctorate dealt with the Palestinian broadcast media. He is a former reporter, correspondent and editor, respectively, at The New York Times, The Cox Newspapers-Atlanta Constitution, and The Jerusalem Post.