The Palestinian Authority has promised three days of rage in response to President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. There will certainly be violence: Burning tires and rock-throwing demonstrations make good video. Stabbings, shooting, and cars running over pedestrians are worth a couple days of headlines, bonus points if hand-wringing pundits blame the victims rather than the terrorists and diplomats rationalize the violence.
But make no mistake: Whatever happens, it will not be spontaneous. Spontaneous protests are a rarity in the Middle East.
When I lived in the Islamic Republic of Iran in the 1990s, students and state workers talked about being bussed to supposedly spontaneous “Death to America” protests. Likewise, when I first visited Iraqi Kurdistan in 2000, Iraqis visiting from regions controlled by Saddam Hussein talked about going to supposedly spontaneous anti-American demonstrations for the free kabobs and ice cream, luxuries while living under sweeping sanctions.
In 2000, then-Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount, a site holy to Jews and Muslims, sparking rioting which would escalate into the Second Intifada, or uprising.
But was the violence spontaneous? Consider Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader subsequently imprisoned for terrorism: He quipped at the time that the "explosion of violence would have happened anyway," that "it was necessary in order to protect Palestinian rights, but Sharon provided a good excuse." Meanwhile, Palestinian Communications Minister Imad al-Faluji told Palestinian radio that Palestinian chairman Yasser Arafat had ordered the second Intifada months earlier after the Camp David II summit collapsed. So much for spontaneity.
The list goes on. Remember those Danish cartoons which spread protests across the Middle East? Planned in advance, they occurred months after the cartoons were published. Pernille Ammitzbøll, a journalist with the Danish paper which first published the Muhammad cartoons, and Lorenzo Vidino, a terrorism analyst, traced the story in the Middle East Quarterly as Saudi-funded Danish imams racked up frequent flier points meeting with officials from the Arab League, al-Azhar University in Cairo, and Al Jazeera in order to put all the pegs in place.
Then, of course, there is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has become the master of mob rule. He planned his 2009 Davos shouting match in advance, and carefully planned a spontaneous rally to meet him upon his return to Istanbul.
With the exception of Israel and a handful of Arab countries, the Middle East is a region of dictatorships. There is much diversity in the region but, if there’s one commonality among dictators—be they Arab, Persian, or Turkish—it is that they fear their population.
They establish multiple and all-pervasive security services for a single purpose: To prevent spontaneity. They keep tight control over the media and use it to incite violence against targets of choice when politically desirable. When protests do occur, they are well-organized and well-controlled. They are a propaganda tool for foreign media and a distraction against local corruption. There is a reason why Molotov cocktail-throwers wait until foreign cameramen arrive and protestors who speak not a word of English carry English signs.
Yes, violence will follow Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But that violence will not occur because of the decision. Rather, it will be ordered and orchestrated in advance by leaders across the Middle East who find violence, terrorism, and fanning anti-Americanism a useful tool.
It’s time American officials held the instigators of violence to account. To do the opposite, and allow American foreign policy to be shaped by a corrupt Palestinian leader whose democratic mandate ended with the end of his term nine years ago, or by fear of a Palestinian mob, will continue a dynamic which has led to decades of blackmail and bloodshed.
Michael Rubin (@Mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official.
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