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Palestinian politics is just starting to get interesting. Yet much of the world seems to be oblivious - at least in terms of actual policy - to the monumental changes taking place.
Every day I read articles in newspapers, journals and other places which explain in lofty terms how Mahmoud Abbas and the moderates must be helped; how he needs to be encouraged to fight terrorism, and how what what he really needs is a good socioeconomic policy.
I say: Wake up and smell the olive oil! He cannot even prevent allies from being gunned down or kidnapped within five minutes of his house by dozens of armed raiders. For all practical purposes, it is already all over for Abbas. He may have deserved better, but after all, too, the Lord helps those who help themselves and Abu Mazen didn't fulfill that requirement.
What is actually impressive is how alone he is. Every day more allies desert him. He no longer even has the support of Muhammad Dahlan, his sole supporter who commanded a goodly number of armed men. Now the influential Tayib Abdul Rahim, once Arafat's secretary, has quit and denounced Abu Mazen in a front-page Palestinian newspaper article.
Granted, Abu Mazen is still voted most trusted politician in Palestinian polls, but this is not much of a distinction given the fact that only about one-in-five Palestinians says so. In some ways - though he didn't do much - he has been judged as too moderate, at least by the activists. He is also at a disadvantage because he is a 1948 refugee, from Safed now in Israel, and thus has no strong family in the West Bank or Gaza to give him a solid base.
Along with his remaining allies, the hard-line PLO veterans, the Abu Mazen slate might be lucky to get 20 percent in the January 25 scheduled elections.
But will the elections even be held? No one knows. If the current Palestinian Authority leadership can find some way to postpone them it will eagerly do so. Yet such a pretext seems hard to find, and what will the Fatah opposition and Hamas do if they are robbed of their victory by such a maneuver? In the twisted logic of Palestinian politics they will try, of course, to kill Israelis.
AND WHAT about Hamas? The more one examines the results of local elections the more amazing the Hamas landslide appears. It will not do so well in parliamentary voting but 30% to 35% of the vote seems attainable. Even this is an understatement because with Fatah split such an outcome could put an even larger percentage of Hamas candidates into parliament.
Such a result could lead to a cut-off of all foreign aid. But even if the European donors avoid such a decision (they could cite, for example, the fact that Fatah still has a majority or forms the government), surely the incoming money will slow to a trickle.
After the election, Hamas, rather than be moderated, will engage in an orgy of triumph, stepping up terrorist attacks and flaunting its electoral success. At a minimum it will seek equal partnership with Fatah, though its long-term goal is what Hamas leaders are starting to call "PLO-3."
First, in the mid-1960s, came the PLO as an Egyptian instrument; then in the late 1960s began the nationalist era led by Yasser Arafat; and now they hope for a third era of an Islamist-dominated movement.
Marwan Barghouti may be in jail but from his cell he is running the Future Party. He is already making deals with Hamas leaders for what amounts to an alliance though, on a purely political level, he would probably advocate Fatah's unity. After all, taking over Fatah is his immediate objective.
In a few years, perhaps months, there will be a whole campaign to paint Barghouti as a moderate, a man of peace who is ready to make a deal with Israel. It should be noted that Barghouti's strategy is to drive Israel militarily back to the 1967 armistice lines through terrorism and then negotiate a deal on his terms. Not very promising, especially given his developing close partnership with Hamas.
Meanwhile, the new arrangement on the Gaza-Egypt border has proven to be a joke. To my knowledge, not one person has been turned back and not one load of "freight" (possibly weapons) has been stopped at the border. Israeli complaints are ignored with the complicity of hapless European observers. Wanted terrorists cross with no problem and are feted with public celebrations in their home towns.
Yet, aside from missiles - which are getting longer-range and more accurate but still pose only a limited threat - Israel should be able to maintain border security. Israel has better intelligence and a stronger line of defense.
The Palestinians are doing much worse.
Their movement is crumbling, the basis for any real international support (whatever words of sympathy come out of Washington and Europe) is eroding, and the new regime will probably make their daily lives worse. Hamas and Barghouti, supposedly the people's saviors from a corrupt, inept Abu Mazen, are going to damage the movement even further.
The writer, director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center, is editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies.
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