Palestinian Authority vs Hamas: What is the difference? - Analysis

This week Abbas ruled out calling another Palestinian parliamentary election if Israel bars Palestinians in east Jerusalem from voting.

Jpost editorial logo  (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Jpost editorial logo
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
As 2019 draws to a close, Israel appears to be on the verge of reaching a new long-term ceasefire deal with Hamas in Gaza. The main problem with the deal is that once again, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is negotiating with a terrorist organization and doing all it can to avoid a dialogue with the representative of the Palestinian people that is against terrorism – Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority.
The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh quoted PLO Executive Committee member Azzam al-Ahmed as telling the PA’s Voice of Palestine radio station that “the cooperation between Israel and Hamas aims to solidify divisions among the Palestinians and geographically and legally separate the Gaza Strip from Palestine [the West Bank].” The continued split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Ahmed warned, is designed to consolidate de facto Hamas rule in Gaza and prevent the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
Abbas has, undoubtedly, been a problematic partner for peace. He squarely rejected a generous peace offer by prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2008. He has not held new elections in the Palestinian territories since winning the presidential election in 2005, and parliamentary elections in 2006.
This week he ruled out calling another Palestinian parliamentary election if Israel bars Palestinians in east Jerusalem from voting. The Netanyahu government has, meanwhile, chosen to ignore a letter sent by the PA on Saturday, demanding that Israel allow Palestinian residents of the city to vote.
“We formally asked Israel to allow the residents of east Jerusalem to participate in the upcoming presidential and legislative elections, in accordance with the agreements signed between the PLO and Israel in the years 1996 and 2006,” said PA Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh.
Netanyahu and his government may not particularly like Abbas, 84, but they should consider what the ceasefire deal with Hamas does to him and his continued rule. For one thing, under Abbas, Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation remains a crucial element in preventing terrorist attacks and maintaining calm both in Israel and the West Bank.
But more fundamentally, why is Israel not engaging in a dialogue with the PA rather than Hamas, even if the latter is via mediators such as Egypt? The European Union, and especially Germany, have justifiably been pressuring Abbas to call new elections. The EU, it should be noted, is now the PA’s top donor, pouring in hundreds of millions of dollars after the Trump administration dramatically cut US aid over the past two years.
“We want the elections to happen because since 2006, legislative and presidential elections have not occurred here,” Abbas told a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council on December 17. “Therefore, we must hold these elections, but not at any price.”
Abbas is in a quandary. On the one hand, he remains at loggerheads with Hamas and has failed in his numerous efforts to form a national unity government and assert his authority in the Gaza Strip in the years since Hamas ousted the PA from Gaza in 2007. On the other, he is under increasing pressure from the international community, especially the EU, to call new elections.
Israel, rather than ignoring Abbas, should consider finding a way to open a dialogue with the Palestinian leader who might be intransigent when it comes to negotiating a peace deal, but has genuinely come out against terrorism and continues to order his security services to coordinate with the IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) even when there is no diplomatic horizon.
The last time Netanyahu and Abbas held a formal meeting was in September 2010 in Jerusalem, although they briefly greeted each other at Shimon Peres’s funeral six years later.
As Israel’s longest-serving prime minister heading into a new election on March 2, a renewal of dialogue with Abbas would show the world – as well as Israelis and Palestinians – that Israel supports engagement with the PA rather than just with Hamas.
Abbas may not be the perfect partner for peace, but he is still preferable to Hamas.