(photo credit: AP)
Over the past three years, the international community invested billions of dollars in boosting the standing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction among Palestinians.
Most of the money went to new economic projects in the West Bank with the hope that an improved economy would prevent Hamas from extending its control beyond the borders of the Gaza Strip.
But just when it seemed that the economic boom had strengthened Abbas and Fatah, the "scandal" surrounding the Palestinian leadership's handling of the UN fact-finding commission of inquiry into Operation Cast Lead came and destroyed most of the achievements.
There's a famous saying in Arabic, that "as the camel falls to it knees, more knives are drawn." This is exactly what has happened to Abbas, who is facing an unprecedented wave of condemnation from an increasing number of Palestinians and Arabs.
In the eyes of most Palestinian political analysts, even a miracle would not be able to repair the collateral damage to Abbas's status following his decision last Thursday to withdraw a motion demanding that the UN Human Rights Council endorse the findings of the commission of inquiry headed by Justice Richard Goldstone.
"All the efforts the Americans and Europeans made to bolster President Abbas's standing have gone down the drain," remarked one analyst. "Even many of Abbas's loyalists have turned against him."
The "scandal" is the best thing that could have happened to Hamas. It erupted just as the Egyptians announced that they had succeeded in their efforts to end the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah.
The Egyptians were hoping that the two rival parties would sign a "reconciliation" accord in Cairo on October 25 in the presence of several Arab foreign ministers. Neither Hamas nor Fatah is happy about the agreement, which is actually being imposed on them by Egypt.
IN RECENT months, the Egyptians exerted immense pressure on Hamas and Fatah to accept a proposal calling for holding new elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the first half of 2010. The proposal also called for the establishment of a committee that would administer the Gaza Strip until the elections were held under Arab supervision.
A similar attempt by the Saudis in 2007 to end the Hamas-Fatah rift also failed. Then, the Saudis also used threats and pressure to force the two sides to sign a unity agreement that neither of them liked.
In light of the new crisis in the PA, Hamas has advised the Egyptians to postpone the signing ceremony slated for October 25. Hamas's excuse: We can't shake hands with Abbas, who has exonerated Israel from perpetrating war crimes against humanity.
Hamas knows that no Palestinian would blame it for torpedoing the "reconciliation" agreement with Fatah, especially not when the Palestinian public is so furious with Abbas "for helping Israel bury its war crimes in the Gaza Strip." Whoever put pressure on Abbas to withdraw the motion from the UN not only foiled Egypt's efforts to end the Hamas-Fatah crisis, but also played into the hands of the Islamic movement. Hamas's chances of winning another election are now higher than they were before the fiasco over the PA's handling of the Goldstone Report.
Hamas's message to the Palestinian public these days is: You see, we told you that Abbas and Fatah were puppets of America and Israel, and both act against the interests of our people.
Hamas and many disenchanted Palestinians have dubbed Abbas's decision a great sin and historic crime against the Palestinians. Others have gone as far as demanding that he and his advisers be put on trial for high treason - a charge punishable by death in the PA territories.
It's not that the popularity of Abbas and Fatah was high in the first place. Despite the improved economy and sharp decline in violence in the West Bank, many Palestinians continued to relate to Abbas and Fatah as "traitors," largely because of their close ties with the US and Israel.
Abbas continues to be regarded as a weak and uncharismatic leader, and many Palestinians still don't view his party as a better alternative to Hamas.
The phrase "Abbas and Fatah are finished" was uttered by almost every respected political analyst in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the past week.
In fact, the latest attacks on Abbas began a few weeks ago when, again under US pressure, he agreed to meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York.
Abbas came to the meeting despite his repeated declarations that he would not meet with Netanyahu or resume peace talks unless Israel halted all construction in the settlements and accepted the two-state solution.
Three days before the meeting in New York, Abbas advisers and spokesmen told reporters in Ramallah that the PA president had turned down a US request to attend a trilateral summit with Netanyahu and President Barack Obama. A few hours later, the White House issued a statement announcing that Abbas would attend the summit after all.
The summit turned Abbas into a liar in the eyes of many Palestinians. It also reinforced the widespread perception that Abbas was a pawn in the hands of the Israelis and Americans.
If there's truth to the PA claim that its decision to ditch the Goldstone Report was taken as a result of American pressure and threats, then the Obama administration has effectively undermined and discredited Abbas and Fatah.
Forcing Abbas to return to the negotiating table at this stage will further undermine what's left of his credibility, especially now that many Palestinians are calling for his resignation and questioning his right to represent them in any negotiations with Israel.
Thanks to the recent mistakes made by the Obama administration, not only has Hamas's power grown, but it would be difficult to find a Palestinian who would agree to purchase a second-hand car from Abbas, let alone accept a peace agreement he brokered with Israel.