Who wants to defeat Hamas?

In a strange twist of fate, with regards to Hamas, Israel’s interests have coincided with the PA’s.

Mahmoud Abbas on Channel 2 (photo credit: Screenshot)
Mahmoud Abbas on Channel 2
(photo credit: Screenshot)
Writing from Gaza during Israel’s current “Pillar of Defense” operation, one particular journalist from the UK called Hamas “the elected government in Gaza.” The idea that somehow Hamas is a legitimate administration has found widespread acceptance. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Hamas, unwilling to share power with Fatah following the elections of 2006, seized control of Gaza in a fratricidal and bloody coup d’état.
These elections, held across the West Bank and Gaza, were for seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, the legislature of the Palestinian National Authority (PA). The appointment of Ismail Haniyeh as prime minister of Hamas meant that Hamas won 74 seats while the ruling Fatah won 45 seats in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ national unity government.
But sharing control with the Fatah nationalists did not suit Hamas. Within four days in mid-June 2007, their “Executive Force” seized control of the entire Gaza Strip, sweeping away key security services and the national militia. President Abbas responded by dissolving the national unity government and forming an emergency government in Ramallah, led by former finance minister Salam Fayyad.
Despite various attempts at a reconciliation, the two wings of the Palestinian body politic have remained not only divided, but positively hostile ever since. The fact that Abbas participated in peace efforts aimed at settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by establishing a sovereign Palestine alongside Israel − the two-state solution − is a total anathema to the Hamas leadership. They maintain implacable hostility to the very existence of the State of Israel, which they refuse to recognize.  Armed struggle, with the elimination of Israel from the Middle East as its objective, is their credo.
In pursuit of this objective, Hamas seeks out every opportunity to challenge the Fatah government and undermine the PA administration in the West Bank. Hamas refuses to recognize Mahmoud Abbas as the legitimate President of the PA.  Boosted by the Arab Spring – in particular, the boost it gave to the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the Arab world – Hamas has since been flexing its muscles. Apart from stepping up its rocket attacks into Israel and supporting various terrorist activities in Sinai, it has also been garnering supporters in the West Bank by recruiting university students through various jihadist and social aid programs such as "Kutla" and “Da'wa.”
Just prior to the current conflict, Israeli security forces arrested around 30 Hamas activists in the Ramallah area who were suspected of heading a command cell aimed at increasing Hamas’ local standing. In September of this year, the PA itself, equally opposed to Hamas’s attempts to increase its influence, arrested dozens of Hamas activists in the West Bank. In short, Abbas is fighting a rearguard action to prevent Hamas from seizing control in the West Bank as it did in Gaza.
Meanwhile, Abbas is severely handicapped on the world stage. He cannot speak for the Palestinian people as a whole because his writ does not run in what must be a vital part of any sovereign Palestinian state - should one ever come into being.  Abbas is desperate to retain authority in the West Bank and regain control of Gaza. 
As far as the PA is concerned, any form of armed intervention in Gaza is out of the question (even though Hamas did not hesitate to employ this very tactic against the PA back in 2007). The effect on Palestinian public opinion of any such action does not require much imagination. Nevertheless Abbas, no less than Israel, must defeat Hamas in what has become a struggle for survival. As such, the fact of the matter – no doubt unpalatable in some quarters − is that in this crucial aspect of the tangled Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel’s interests and the PA’s coincide.
Whatever his public pronouncements, Mahmoud Abbas must be viewing Israel’s “Pillar of Defense” operation with decidedly mixed feelings. 
The writer is the author of “One Year in the History of Israel and Palestine” (2011) and writes the blog “A Mid-East Journal” (www.a-mid-east-journal.blogspot.com)