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Since Hamas's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip two months ago, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has issued more than 100 "presidential decrees" that were intended to punish the Islamist movement. The last, issued on Thursday, called for the dismissal of six senior officials working in the office of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
Needless to say, most of Abbas's decrees are completely irrelevant, largely because he does not have the power to implement them. His security forces in the Gaza Strip have completely collapsed and most of his armed loyalists in Fatah have either gone underground or are in Hamas prisons.
The presidential decrees have raised serious doubts about Abbas's true intentions. Some Palestinians see them as a desperate attempt to punish Hamas in a symbolic way because of what the movement did in the Gaza Strip. Others have expressed concern over the nature of the decrees, some of which, they argue, are "unconstitutional" and "undemocratic."
Abbas's decrees have had almost no effect on Hamas. One, for example, outlaws the armed security force of Hamas, known as the Executive Force. The 7,000-strong force is based in the Gaza Strip, where Abbas no longer has any influence.
"He can issue as many decrees as he wants, nothing will help him," remarked a Hamas official in the Gaza Strip this week. "Abbas is making a fool out of himself. If he thinks that his decrees will bring down Hamas, he is mistaken."
FATAH LEADERS in Ramallah agree. One of them said earlier this week that Abbas had become so obsessed with punishing Hamas that he no longer had time for anything else. "The president should be thinking about the future of the people and ways of reforming Fatah," he said. "Instead, he is all day issuing these ineffective decrees to tease Hamas. The decrees won't change the situation."
Two months after the humiliating defeat of Abbas's forces and loyalists, there are no indications that Hamas has been weakened. On the contrary, it seems to be tightening its grip on the Gaza Strip, in spite of the decrees and fiery statements emerging from the Mukata compound in Ramallah.
Some Palestinians are even beginning to talk about the calm and security in Hamastan, as opposed to the ongoing anarchy in the Fatah-controlled West Bank. Many of the armed clans have either surrendered their weapons to Hamas or are keeping a low profile under the new Islamist regime. Hamas has even banned the tradition of firing into the air during weddings. Militiamen and armed gangsters have virtually disappeared from the streets.
Hamas's success in stabilizing the situation in the Gaza Strip has left many of Abbas's aides extremely worried. Some have even begun questioning the effectiveness of his measures against Hamas. Perhaps this explains why some senior Fatah leaders have been holding secret talks with Hamas in the past few weeks.
Despite denials from Abbas and his close aides, Hamas and Fatah representatives insist that talks are taking place in a number of Arab capitals. The Fatah representatives who have been talking to Hamas argue that there is no other way to resolve the crisis.
"We have lost everything in the Gaza Strip," admitted one Fatah operative. "I don't see how we can return to the Gaza Strip under the current circumstances. We don't have enough security forces there, and we still don't enjoy enough support on the street."
Some Arab and Islamic countries are also said to be exerting heavy pressure on Abbas to patch up his differences with Hamas. Yemen, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as the Arab League, are all involved in the mediation efforts. In addition, voices emerging from Rome and London in support of talks with Hamas appear to have increased the pressure on Abbas.
Aware of the fact that there is no military solution to the crisis, Abbas has now softened his stance toward the Islamist movement. He is no longer calling Hamas a group of murderers and terrorists. In Ramallah on Wednesday, Abbas surprised journalists when he called, during a press conference with visiting Japanese Foreign Minister Taso Aso, on Hamas to "return to national unity."
It's possible Abbas's new conciliatory approach is linked to growing pressure on him from within his Fatah faction. Holding him personally responsible for the crisis with Hamas, some Fatah leaders have been talking about the need for grooming a successor to the PA chairman. In this regard, the names of jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti and veteran PLO official Abu Maher Ghnaim have resurfaced as potential candidates.
Abbas is reported to have told his associates that he might not run for another term, when and if the next presidential elections are ever held. "The president is tired," said a source close to Abbas. "I don't believe he will run for another term, also because of his age."
The pressure on Abbas is expected to mount after the US-sponsored Middle East peace conference later this year. Many Palestinians are not pinning high hopes on the conference, especially because they don't believe Israel and the US will offer them more than what has been offered in the past. Moreover, any deal that Abbas strikes will be automatically rejected by at least half of the Palestinians.
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