Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas apparently plans to ask the UN Security Council to force Israel to withdraw from territories that came under Israel’s control in the wake of the 1967 Six Day War.
Abbas’s initiative – backed by Hamas – will undoubtedly succeed in increasing diplomatic pressure on Israel within the UN, a forum notoriously hostile to the Jewish state. And this seems to be precisely Abbas’s goal. Indeed, it appears that Abbas is cooperating with Hamas in a two-pronged offensive against Israel. While Fatah under Abbas’s leadership wages a diplomatic war against Israel from Ramallah, Hamas continues its military offensive from Gaza. The combination of the two, it is hoped, will force Israel to make concessions.
The US, one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, will undoubtedly veto the measure in line with its belief – shared by Israel and many other Western nations – that any diplomatic settlement between Israel and the Palestinians must be reached through dialogue and mutual consent, not through coercion and unilateral measures.
Abbas might then turn to the UN General Assembly, where the initiative would pass by a huge majority, though it would have only a declarative significance. Abbas could also pursue filing a complaint of “war crimes” by Israel with the International Criminal Court prosecutor.
More than its efficacy in bringing about real political change, Abbas’s UN initiative reveals the depressing reality of the trajectory of Palestinian politics. Abbas could instead take advantage of Egypt’s hostility toward Hamas to increase Fatah’s influence in the Gaza Strip. The first step would be to give the PA control over the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border. Other states such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which are interested in weakening the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, would likely support such an initiative.
Gradually, Hamas’s hold over Gaza could be weakened while Fatah’s influence as the political entity controlling what goes into and out of Gaza Strip would grow. Eventually, Abbas could consolidate Fatah’s power not just on the West Bank but also in Gaza. He would end the rift between the Fatah and Hamas and become the uncontested leader of the Palestinian people. He would then be in an ideal position to relaunch negotiations with Israel, with the sincere intention of reaching a resolution, assuming he has such an intention, which is not entirely clear.
But the dynamics of Palestinian politics, which Abbas has helped shape over the years, are not conducive to such developments. Rather, continuation of the so-called resistance struggle against Israel through whatever means is seen as the paramount goal. Years of incitement against Israel, much of it generated by the PA, has had an impact.
And Hamas, a corrupt organization which openly declares its intention of destroying Israel and devotes most of its resources to that goal, is astoundingly popular; far too popular to be challenged by Fatah.
If anything, Hamas has probably become more popular since the fighting began in Gaza, despite the tremendous loss of Palestinian life and the utter destruction it has wreaked. Indeed, Hamas’s violent offensive against Israeli society is the reason for its popularity among Palestinians.
Sixty-four percent of Palestinians in the West Bank said they supported Hamas’s demands for a cease-fire, while 15% said their position was closer to Abbas, according to a poll conducted and published in July by the Arab World for Research and Development. The survey was based on a sample of 300 and another 150 Palestinian “opinion makers.” Two-thirds of those surveyed said Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal played a positive role during the Gaza war, while only 13% said the same about Abbas.
Abbas could not seriously challenge Hamas even if he wanted to, which he apparently doesn’t. Instead, the PA president seems to be coordinating his moves with Hamas’s Mashaal. While Hamas is engaged in a terrorist war of attrition against Israel, purposely exposing Gaza’s civilian population, Abbas is spearheading a diplomatic offensive that includes appealing to the UN, the ICC and other international organizations to indict Israel for “war crimes” and to delegitimize Israeli attempts to defend itself.
None of these tactics will succeed in defeating Israel. But Palestinian political realities which leave Abbas no choice but to join forces with Hamas do not augur well for the future of a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now is the time for Abbas to change course and resume negotiations with Israel, rather than play into Hamas’s hands and resort to unilateral moves that can only be detrimental to any possibility of a dialogue.