Worried, weakened Abbas shows Hamas some love

Worried, weakened Abbas shows Hamas some love

Palestinian leader is watching support for his Fatah ebb away, leading him to make nice to his Islamist arrivals, without actually backing them

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah with members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), July 22, 2014. (AFP/Abbas Momani)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah with members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), July 22, 2014. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

It was Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who showed up at the Muqata’a government compound in Ramallah Tuesday to speak to the Palestinian public about the crisis in the Gaza Strip.

But to the untrained ear it could have sounded like a Hamas apparatchik was doing the talking.

Arriving after a longish swing through the Arab world, Abbas spoke as if he had adopted the Hamas terms for ceasefire with Israel.

He noted the Hamas demands one by one — the lifting of the blockade on Gaza, opening of the border crossings, release of prisoners (including the canceled fourth phase of a previously planned release) and an international summit to deal with Gaza.

He also used the Islamic movement’s terminology in anything to do with the conflict with Israel and stressed how strong Palestinian unity is.

Except that Abbas added one small sentence that illustrates the difference between Gaza and Ramallah.

He called for an immediate end to the fighting and only after that for talking about Hamas’s demands. That is to say, Abbas still supports the Egyptian-led mediation effort for stopping the fighting and not that of Qatar-Turkey-Hamas.

Abbas’s speech was a masterfully executed diplomatic hug. Officially he is making nice to Hamas, but in actuality he is far from supporting it.

Abbas said just on Monday to the Hamas politburo head, Khaled Mashaal, that his organization must stop the fighting immediately. He said the same thing the next day in his speech, though he toned down the language.

Why, then, is Abbas nonetheless embracing Hamas? Abbas and the Fatah leadership understand that the situation in Gaza has brought a dramatic weakening of their position. Their popularity has divebombed. Abbas’s staffers are worried over a survey published Tuesday by the Awrad Institute among West Bankers that indicates a significant advance in Hamas’s status at the expense of Fatah.

The figures in the survey tell the story of the war from the Palestinian point of view, and explain why Hamas is so determined to continue fighting.

On the question of who is winning the war, only 7 percent responded that it is Israel, some 58% said it was Hamas and 34% said neither one (1% responded that they didn’t know). When asked about Abbas’s role, only 16% gave a positive response compared to 59% who were negative. By comparison, regarding Khaled Mashaal, 66% responded positively and only 10% gave a negative response.

As for the roles of the various Palestinian factions, 22% said that Fatah’s role was positive compared to 45% who said they thought it was negative and another 32% who said it was neutral. Meanwhile, 85% said Hamas is functioning in a positive way, only 6% said negative and 9% said it was neutral. Thirty-one percent said they support Hamas and just 24% said they were behind Fatah and the other various factions.

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