Abbas prepares to get tough on Hamas, and on Israel

Abbas prepares to get tough on Hamas, and on Israel

The PA president won't rebuild Gaza if Hamas stands in his way, and won't work with Israel in the West Bank unless there is substantive progress toward Palestinian statehood

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 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

On Sunday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gathered his advisers at his Muqata’a headquarters in Ramallah ahead of a planned visit by his chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and intelligence chief Majed Faraj to the US. The negotiators are set to meet next week with US Secretary of State John Kerry and present him with Abbas’s new diplomatic proposal.

However, the meeting also reviewed the tense relations between the PA and Hamas, strains that have most certainly continued even after the cessation of the 50-day conflict in the Gaza Strip. It has become clear to the Palestinian leader and those close to him that, despite the pleasantries heard from Hamas leaders praising Palestinian unity and reconciliation, words and actions are two different things.

Even at the height of the Israel-Hamas conflict, Hamas security forces continued to crack down on Fatah activists in Gaza. There were arrests, knee-cappings of Fatah members, and even executions of “suspected collaborators” — at least some of whom were Fatah people who had been languishing in Hamas prisons for the past six years. In addition, over the weekend, Hamas members prevented the planned opening of offices for five Abbas “governors” who had been appointed on the eve of the conflict as part of an effort by the PA leader to show that he has some authority in the coastal enclave.

The PA hasn’t been idle either. In the past two days, the PA security services, the general intelligence service, and the preventative security force, have carried out a wave of arrests of Hamas operatives across the West Bank.

In other words, it’s business as usual between Fatah and Hamas: The Gaza conflict against Israel may have ended, but the conflict between the two Palestinian organizations rolls on.

Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Mashaal meet in Cairo, February 2012 (photo credit: Mohammed al-Hums/Flash 90)
Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas’s Khaled Mashaal (photo credit: Mohammed al-Hums/Flash90)

And this rivalry now threatens to paralyze rehabilitation efforts in the Gaza Strip. Those close to Abbas say that he is not prepared to play along with Hamas’s duplicitous games. He’s not prepared to tolerate Hamas’s talk of unity on the one hand and its efforts to hinder the work of the PA unity government on the other.

The Palestinian leader has appointed a committee, composed of five Fatah leaders, that is supposed to negotiate with Hamas leaders on the next steps for Gaza. One of the principles that the committee will demand is freedom of activity for PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s ostensibly Fatah- and Hamas-backed government to operate in Gaza, and an end to the attacks on Fatah personnel there. The Abbas representatives will make it clear that if those conditions are not met there will be no wages paid to Hamas officials and responsibility for rehabilitation of Gaza will fall on Hamas’s shoulders alone.

But Hamas, it can assumed, will be in no hurry to give up its control of Gaza and clear the stage for Abbas’s people.

While grappling with the tensions with Hamas, the Palestinian leader simultaneously intends to renew the diplomatic pressure on Israel. His peace plan, which he is set to submit for Arab League approval by the end of this week, envisions filing a request with the Americans in the coming days to pressure Israel to present a map of a future Palestinian state as the basis for substantive negotiations. After Israel presents the map, Abbas’s plan calls for a firm timetable to be laid down for a gradual Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

If Israel refuses his plan, or refrains from responding, the Palestine Liberation Organization intends, within three months, to seek a UN Security Council resolution that recognizes the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, prepares for the Quartet Meeting on Middle East affairs at the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters Friday, Sept. 27, 2013. In background is Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Representative Saeb Erekat. (photo credit: AP /Craig Ruttle)
US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, prepares for the Quartet Meeting on Middle East affairs at the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters Friday, Sept. 27, 2013. In background is Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Representative Saeb Erekat. (photo credit: AP /Craig Ruttle)

The Palestinians, expecting the US to veto any such resolution, intend to then approach the General Assembly with the same request. After that, the PLO will seek to join international bodies and organizations, and then to campaign to have Palestine recognized as a nation under occupation according to the Geneva Conventions.

The final phase of Abbas’s ambitious plan is to halt joint security operations with Israel, so central to the recent relative calm in the West Bank, and hand over all responsibility for rule in Palestinian cities to the IDF.

PA sources note that no one is talking about declaredly disbanding the PA, but in practice it will cease to function.

Ending joint security operations is still a long way off and, at this stage, there could yet be changes, developments, and restructuring of the Abbas plan. But, for Abbas and his close confidants, matters are clear: Israel has until the end of the calendar year to decide whether or not it intends to present a map of the future Palestine. If the answer is negative, a diplomatic confrontation between the PA and Israel will be unavoidable, and will also lead to the cessation of the joint security apparatus.

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