After a nebulous statement that could be interpreted as supporting Hamas’s invasion of Israel and the subsequent butchery of Israeli civilians in its power, the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas has disavowed Hamas’s mindless, even by Palestinian standards, violence against civilians. In a phone call to Venezuela jefe Nicolas Maduro, Abbas said, “The president also stressed that Hamas’ policies and actions do not represent the Palestinian people.” But hours later, that reference was deleted from the official Palestinian communique.
Shortly after last Saturday’s invasion, Abbas issued a statement that pleased no one.
Palestinians have a right “to defend themselves against the terrorism of settlers and occupation forces,” he said after a discussion with security officials.
His formulaic response underscored the Palestinian Authority’s weakened position and sclerotic leadership as Hamas, its longtime archrival that rules the Gaza Strip, carried out the deadliest terrorist attack in Israel’s history and threatened to drag the region into a prolonged conflict.
Hamas has been used by the Israeli government for some years as a foil to Abbas’s Palestinian authority.
Abbas is backed by the West but is widely unpopular across the Palestinian territories, where people are seething at the Israeli bombardment of Gaza and a year of deadly raids across the West Bank. His autocratic government is viewed by many Palestinians as an extension of the Israeli occupation.
The idea was that granting Hamas some level of recognition would not only weaken the Palestinian Authority but domesticate Hamas in the bargain.
For years, the various governments led by Benjamin Netanyahu took an approach that divided power between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank — bringing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to his knees while making moves that propped up the Hamas terror group.
The idea was to prevent Abbas — or anyone else in the Palestinian Authority’s West Bank government — from advancing toward the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Thus, amid this bid to impair Abbas, Hamas was upgraded from a mere terror group to an organization with which Israel held indirect negotiations via Egypt, and one that was allowed to receive infusions of cash from abroad.
Unfortunately, the cash from NGOs did nothing to improve the lives of Gaza residents. But it did provide an unending stream of wealth to Hamas to buy weapons, pay fighters, and turn Gaza into a terrorist training ground and quasi-official recognition as a legitimate negotiating partner in the West.
When the first reports circulated of Abbas disavowing Hamas’s actions, it seemed to many, me among them, that Abbas was attempting a powerplay to push Hamas out of Gaza and assume leadership of all Palestinian territories. Then the real news came out:
The comments, published by WAFA on its website, came during a phone call between Abbas and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The two discussed Israel’s bombardment of Gaza following Hamas’ deadly rampage through Israeli cities. The original WAFA report on Abbas’ call included the line: “The president also stressed that Hamas’ policies and actions do not represent the Palestinian people, and the policies, programs and decisions of the (Palestine Liberation Organization) represent the Palestinian people as their sole legitimate representative.”
Several hours later, the phrase was adjusted to read: “The president also stressed that the policies, programs, and decisions of the PLO represent the Palestinian people as their sole legitimate representative, and not the policies of any other organization.”
It was not immediately clear why the reference to Hamas was removed. There was no immediate comment by Abbas’ office or by WAFA. Hamas had no immediate comment.
I think we all know why the reference to Hamas was removed: fear. Abbas probably can’t survive a physical confrontation with Hamas, and Hamas killing Abbas would kick off another round of Palestinian intramural killing. It is also an indicator that support for Hamas is much stronger inside the Palestinian Authority, despite the desires of his UN and EU paymasters.
The implication is that Abbas can’t be expected to step forward and try to assume the mantle of Hamas once it is driven from Gaza…or underground in Gaza. That would give the appearance of dancing on its grave, and Abbas is showing that he doesn’t have the stones it takes for real leadership. So Israel will be confronted with the issue of creating a non-Hamas government in Gaza from scratch and doing it in a way that doesn’t result in that government being labeled as an arm of the so-called Israeli “occupation.”