New Terror Wave A Portend Of More?
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New Terror Wave A Portend Of More?

U.S.-Abbas ties fraying as Israel mourns and symbolic anniversaries loom.

Contributing Editor, The NY Jewish Week

Security personnel at the scene of a stabbing attack Sunday that killed  a civilian Israeli security guard in Jerusalem’s Old City. Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90
Security personnel at the scene of a stabbing attack Sunday that killed a civilian Israeli security guard in Jerusalem’s Old City. Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90

When an attacker fatally plunged his knife into Adiel Kolman on Sunday in Jerusalem, it was just hours after two terror victims who had been killed on Friday were laid to rest.

In the space of three days, terrorists killed three young men. As Passover nears, in three homes there will be empty chairs at the families’ seder tables.

The nation heard the raw emotion of their parents. Kolman’s mother, Yael, hadn’t been able to bring herself to enter the hospital room once her son, a 32-year-old father of four, was declared dead. “I wanted to remember him with his face perfect,” she  said.

The family lost its “jewel,” she stated, referring to the meaning of the name Adiel, which is “God’s ornament.” A resident of the West Bank settlement of Kochav Hashachar, he was enrolled in a course to teach in special needs education. He also worked at the City of David archeological park, and had just left there when he was attacked.

As Kolman was laid to rest, there was lots of talk of his children, all aged under 10, and his wife Ayelet. Mourners sobbed as six young men, friends, relations and a cemetery employee picked up the stretcher and took the deceased to his grave.

Israel was already geared up for grief by the time of Kolman’s funeral. Two IDF soldiers in their early 20s, Ziv Daos and Netanel Kahalani, had just been laid to rest. They were killed last Friday in the West Bank, mowed down by a Palestinian man who drove into a group of IDF conscripts.

“He has to say Kaddish and bury me, not vice-versa,” said Ronen, Daos’ father, as Shalom, grandfather of the deceased, looked on. “This is unnatural.”

Kahalani’s father Danny said he couldn’t fully absorb his loss. His mother Naomi said he was “a gift of a child” who “always smiled” and was “loved everywhere.”

Coleman’s attacker, 28-year-old Abd al-Rahman Bani Fadel, was shot dead at the scene, while Shin Bet has announced that the alleged perpetrator of the ramming attack, 26-year-old Ala Qabha, has confessed.

But these episodes are unlikely to end with confessions and convictions. The terror wave that started in the fall of 2015 never truly came to an end, and there are many rallying cries for Palestinian radicals right now.

The killing of the soldiers happened on a “day of rage,” called by some Palestinian groups including Hamas who wanted to mark 100 days since U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Next Friday, as well as being the night of the first Passover seder, is Land Day, an annual day of demonstrations by Palestinians and many Arab citizens of Israel, and some players will be looking to use the occasion as a premise for violence.

Israel will be marking its 70th birthday on Yom Ha’Atzmaut, April 19, an occasion that some will be keen to disrupt, and Palestinians will hold their commemoration of Israel’s establishment in May. Yawm an-Nakba, as the day is known in Arabic, means Day of the Catastrophe, and could well entail attacks — especially as it will be close to the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.

Worryingly, the relationship between the Palestinian Authority and the United States, which has been a stabilizing influence in the past that has helped to keep a lid on frictions, is not improving.

This week, PA President Mahmoud Abbas called U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman a “son of a dog.” Friedman, who is Jewish, responded by asking an audience at a Jerusalem conference: “Is that anti-Semitism or political discourse? I leave that up to you.” America’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, called Abbas’ comment “highly inappropriate.” The Ramallah-Washington relationship has been strained since Abbas’ furious response to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Ramallah’s other big battle impacts Israel, too. The PA’s prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, was targeted by an explosion last week when he was visiting the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip. It seems to have been an assassination attempt, and despite denials, the PA has become more and more convinced that it was the work of Hamas.

“We do not want them to investigate, we do not want information from them, we do not want anything from them because we know exactly that they, the Hamas movement, were the ones who committed this incident,” Abbas said on Monday. He is threatening as-yet unspecified measures against the Hamas regime in Gaza — and is being lambasted by his opponents for doing so.

The PA and Hamas have, at least on paper, been engaged in reconciliation efforts, which may well have encouraged Hamas to exercise some restraint in recent months. We now see a return to more open enmity between them, and this could prompt Hamas to try hard to present itself to the Palestinian public as relevant, and to differentiate itself from the PA. Ramping up violence is an obvious way for Hamas to do this.

If Abbas’ moves against the Hamas regime affect Gaza’s residents, as they have on previous occasions — such as the PA-imposed power cuts last year — this could raise the general level of anger in Gaza and fuel calls for violence against Israel.

Despite the concerns, major escalation is not a foregone conclusion. Israeli counter-terrorism is very strong, foiling numerous attempted attacks that are never heard about, and intelligence capabilities are high. Plus, there is always the long-shot, game-changer attack.

While there is no indication yet of a thawing between Washington and Ramallah, if the White House team surprises everyone with its peace plan that is nearing completion, this could get Abbas back to the table and on its best behavior; such a move would assert the relevance of his PA and sideline Hamas. It is hard to envisage, but the uncertainty of this region, coupled with the unpredictability of President Trump, means that the picture can change very quickly.

Nathan Jeffay’s column appears twice a month.

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