As Hamas celebrated its “victory” after Tuesday’s ceasefire with Israel
, with Israel, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is increasingly finding himself irrelevant on issues concerning the Gaza Strip. By all accounts, he is the biggest loser from the recent developments in the Strip.
In recent weeks, Abbas’s insignificance has been accentuated by efforts made by Egypt, Qatar and the UN to reach a truce between Hamas and Israel.
Abbas is furious that the three parties have been negotiating directly with Hamas. He believes that direct negotiations will only strengthen Hamas and earn it legitimacy and popularity among Palestinians.
He maintains that the PLO, in its capacity as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians,” is the only party authorized to reach a truce with Israel.
Abbas has repeatedly stressed that Hamas is just another Palestinian faction – one that does not have a mandate to reach agreements with anyone, particularly Israel. He even pointed that it was the PLO, and not Hamas, who reached the last ceasefire that ended the 2014 operation in the Gaza Strip.
But the events of the past few weeks have shown that Egypt, Qatar and the UN are determined to proceed with their efforts to achieve a truce in Gaza, with or without Abbas’s consent. The three parties have reached the conclusion that Abbas is not going to change his position regarding the truce between Hamas and Israel, and that’s why they are now negotiating directly with Israel and with Hamas.
Abbas’s biggest fear is that a truce will embolden Hamas and enable it to maintain its control over the Gaza Strip. He also fears that a truce will solidify the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and pave the way for the establishment of a separate Palestinian state in the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave.
Worse, Abbas was forced this week to sit by and watch as Egyptian, Qatari and other international mediators negotiated a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip without referring to him.
The Palestinian leader, who was visiting Kuwait when the last round of violence erupted, was unable to do much other than issue a statement saying he was holding “regional and international contacts to stop the Israeli aggression on our people in the Gaza Strip.”
However, it’s clear by now that Abbas did not play any role in brokering the latest ceasefire. It was achieved thanks to the Egyptians, Qataris and other parties who directly conducted talks between Hamas and Israel.
In an attempt to demonstrate a certain degree of relevance, Abbas announced that he called an “emergency meeting” in Ramallah on Thursday to discuss ways of ending the “Israeli aggression on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.” Someone needs to update Abbas that a ceasefire has already been reached.
The Hamas celebrations over the purported victory are seen as a major blow to Abbas, whose hope of seeing the Islamist movement removed from power has now been reduced to simply a fantasy.
Abbas suffered another blow last week when Qatar delivered $15 million in cash to Hamas
. The delivery of the grant enabled Hamas to pay salaries of thousands of its supporters – a move that further bolstered the group’s standing among Palestinians in the Strip.
In response to the delivery of the money without his consultation, Abbas hinted earlier this week that he was considering additional sanctions against the Gaza Strip.
In the eyes of many Palestinians, Abbas now looks like the bad guy who is punishing Gaza, while others are trying to end the crisis. The PA leader’s belief that he’s being marginalized may prompt him to embark on more drastic measures, such as cutting all PA funds to the Gaza Strip and suspending security coordination with Israel and ties with the US.
If he chooses to go down that road, Abbas will further render himself irrelevant – especially regarding the Gaza Strip – and enhance his status as the president of only certain parts of the West Bank. He also risks losing Israeli and US backing for his Ramallah-based PA.