Palestinian Authority leaders renewed calls for unity with their Hamas-led rivals after the latest Israel-Gaza conflict, but the fighting may have left Hamas with the upper hand.
The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority announced Thursday that the leadership of Hamas and its allies in the Islamic Jihad movement had decided to support the Palestinian Authority’s bid for recognition as an independent state at the United Nations. But that statement was quickly contradicted by leaders of both Gaza-based factions, which have long opposed the gambit that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas launched last year.
The Palestinian Authority, led by Abbas’ Fatah party, has accepted Israel’s right to exist, engaged in peace talks with the Jewish state and plans to renew its quest for the U.N.’s recognition of a Palestinian state this month. But the results of the recent fighting leave Abbas facing a “cruel paradox,” Middle East analyst Aaron David Miller told CNN.
“It was Hamas’ rockets, not Abbas’ diplomacy, that has once again put the Palestinian issue on center stage,” said Miller, a longtime U.S. State Department adviser and a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington. Abbas may want to reach a negotiated settlement with Israel to end the decades-old conflict, but he’s unlikely to do that “if he can’t preside over a unified Palestinian national movement.”
Palestinian Authority spokeswoman Nour Odeh disputed any suggestion that the conflict has left Abbas with a diminished role. Abbas “was in direct contact” with the leaders of the rival factions during the Egyptian-brokered talks that led to Wednesday’s cease-fire, she said, “and being consulted on the details of this agreement, which we have to remember affects 1.6 million Palestinians that the president is still responsible for.”
“The idea of competition right now is really not on the national agenda,” Odeh said.
Hamas, an Islamist movement, does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and has been branded a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union and Israel. It won legislative elections in 2006 and wrested control of Gaza from Fatah in 2007, effectively ruling the territory on its own.
“The Palestinian national movement looks like Noah’s Ark right now. There are two of everything — two constitutions, two presidents, two security services, two mini-states,” Miller said. But after the most recent battle with Israel, “It is Hamas’s stock that is rising,” he said.
Israel and the United States refuse to deal with Hamas. But Daniel Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, told CNN late Wednesday that Israel would be “very happy to talk to Hamas” as long as it renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel’s right to exist.
But Rashid Khalidi, a Columbia University professor of Middle Eastern history and a one-time adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Israel’s continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank “has made the Palestinian Authority look weak, feeble, unable to advance the Palestinian cause.”
“Most Palestinians are sick to death of this split,” Khalidi told CNN. “They understand that they are the weaker party, and that the split weakens them further.” He said the Palestinians need to unite to negotiate with Israel, and both Israel and the United States need to drop the “fiction” that they won’t negotiate with Hamas.
“The world is dealing with Hamas,” he said. “The secretary of state is going to go to Cairo, and she’s going to talk to the Egyptians and they will talk to Hamas. Israel is dealing with Hamas. Israel negotiated a deal for the release of Gilad Shalit,” the Israeli soldier held captive in Gaza for more than five years.
Israel treated the PLO the same way until the 1990s, when then-Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin “was able to overcome that taboo,” Khalidi said. “It’s time to overcome that taboo.”