Israel and Hamas agree on one thing: Mahmoud Abbas

First published by TRT World on 14/1/2019

An Israeli minister’s comments seeking to exile Abbas and blaming him for unrest in Gaza is an indication that not only is Hamas fed up with Mahmoud Abbas – but Israeli leadership is fast losing any trust it had in him.

Ask any Palestinian about Yasser Arafat and you would struggle to find anyone who would not refer to him as one of the key symbols of the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality.

Whatever disagreements Palestinian factions had with him, he still commanded loyalty. It is unlikely that the sorry division between Fatah and Hamas would have happened under his leadership, or if had it happened it would have been allowed to fester for so long. The division has now entered its twelfth year.

The same cannot be said about current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. To his credit, he oversaw the only elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006, which Hamas won and promptly asked its leader, Ismail Haniah to form government.

Israel and the international community rejected the result of the free and fair elections and this marked the beginning of the end of Palestinian unity.

Palestinians met Abbas’ comments with despair about his renunciation of his right to return to his city of birth, Safad or his characterisation of the security cooperation with Israel, detested by them, as ‘sacred’.

Las year his popularity deteriorated further as he carried out various steps to consolidate power while blaming other Palestinian factions for rejecting his call for meetings of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) and the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) in Ramallah.

Abbas repopulated the PNC last year and transferred its powers to the PCC, neither of which has a true representation of Palestinians either in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) or abroad.

Abbas also imposed sanctions on Gaza, which mainly affect ordinary Palestinians, to force Hamas to accept his conditions for reconciliation. Worried about Hamas bypassing the PA to agree quiet with Israel and its refusal to allow Fatah to celebrate its 54th anniversary tipped him over the edge. He accused those involved, of treachery. Abbas ordered PA inspectors manning the Rafah crossing to leave, forcing its closure.

His latest move to consolidate power in his hands and to deal a fatal blow to Palestinian democracy was to dissolve the Palestinian Legislative Council PLC) which has been dormant for years. In claims and counter claims of who was legitimate the (PLC) in Gaza, made up of mainly Hamas members, recently declared Abbas’s presidency illegitimate as he had outstayed his four year term by over eight years.

Repeated attempts by Arab states to bring Fatah and Hamas back from the brink have failed and it is ordinary Palestinians in Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank that have paid for this failure.

A unified Palestinian leadership would have extended the Great Return March from Gaza to the West Bank and Jerusalem. This would have reinstated the Palestinian cause to its rightful place as a major issue for the international community to finally resolve.

Instead, a resolution to the conflict appears to be off the international community’s radar while Palestinians continue to suffer. In the West Bank, the Israeli army enters Palestinian cities including Abbas’s seat of power, Ramallah, as and when it wishes.

In Gaza, peaceful protesters continue to be shot, killed and maimed at the fence with Israel simply for protesting the 12-year long siege and demanding their return to their homes inside Israel 70 years after the Nakba.

As US President Trump’s team continues to plot to end Palestinian aspirations for a just resolution to the conflict, Israel continues to expand its illegal settlements, to Judaize Jerusalem and Hebron and to repeatedly break into Palestinian towns and villages to abduct, demolish and oppress.

It also continues to seek greater normalisation with Arab states, which seem to have fallen into the trap set up by the Trump Administration that their route to salvation from their perceived threat from Iran goes through Tel Aviv.

It might be surprising to observe that what appears to be a very favorable situation for Israel just is not enough. It still seeks to see the Palestinians submit to its will and abandon any claims to freedom and return. Its southern front is not quiet enough and the sporadic attacks on Israelis in the West Bank are unacceptable while settler violence against the Palestinians is tolerated.

The refusal by President Abbas to return to negotiations with Israel, his boycott of the US Administration following its decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and his inability to bring Gaza under control has led an Israeli minister to call for his exile.

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, is particularly unhappy with Abbas’s sanctions on Gaza, which he believes are contributing to the lack of quiet at the Gaza fence. The result has been minor and major incidents of rocket fire from Gaza, which has seen Israeli residents near the fence head for the bunkers.

In a surprise move, Israel has allowed the transfer of Qatari funds to Gaza to pay workers’ salaries, something Abbas objects to, to help secure calm.

Erdan says the PA leader is “one of the main instigators of violence on the southern border” through his campaign to pressure Hamas and has contributed nothing to the diplomatic process. He claims that Abbas “is the one to move inspectors out of the Rafah Crossing, he is the one sanctioning Hamas in order to pressure Hamas — pressure that is bleeding over to us.”

He suggested that Israel should consider “should go as far as to consider one of the next times Abu Mazen leaves not to allow him to come back, because today he makes no contribution to the diplomatic process. He’s only doing damage with his attitude toward Hamas”.

Thus Erdan is effectively calling for Abbas to be exiled. If Abbas then decides to avoid this by not venturing outside Palestine, then he would effectively be confined to his home and office in Ramallah. Israel could deny him permission to even move out of Ramallah to Bethlehem, Hebron or Nablus.

While not as dramatic as Israel’s siege on his predecessor Arafat, which confined him to the Muqataa, he would effectively serve out his days feeling the full force of the occupation. Some might then see him as a hero.

While Hamas and Israel appear to agree that Abbas is a problem, it is unlikely that they agree about how to deal with him. Hamas claims to want elections to unseat him democratically, while it appears Erdan wants his exile.

Erdan and Israel again fail to learn from history. An act like this is likely to raise Abbas’s popularity, not as much as Arafat in his last days but enough to possibly bring about unity between the different Palestinian factions, which Israel does not want to see.

Israel cannot expect to achieve quiet or peace through exiling or attacking Palestinian leaders.

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