Behind much of the Obama government’s pressure on Israel over the past four years has been the idea that concessions to the Palestinian Authority would strengthen moderates and increase the chances of peace. Of course, 20 years of such concessions have done no such thing, as even the so-called moderates are unwilling or incapable of recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Though the U.S. split from its European allies on the question of supporting an upgrade of the PA’s status at the UN, the administration appears ready to back a new push for peace in the coming year aimed at boosting PA President Mahmoud Abbas against his Hamas rivals. But as Khaled Abu Toameh reports, a shift in the strategy employed by Abbas’s Fatah may render the president’s plans moot.
As Abu Toameh writes in his blog for the Gatestone Institute, Fatah and Hamas may be working together in the coming months rather than against each other. Their common goal will be to capitalize on the “victories” won by Hamas in its military standoff with Israel and Fatah at the UN by launching a new round of violence whose purpose will be to heighten Israel’s diplomatic isolation. If this is true, it won’t silence those who will persist in believing that Israeli settlements or other distractions from Palestinian intransigence are the real obstacle to peace. But it will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the president to sell the Israelis on the idea that Fatah is a partner for peace.
As Abu Toameh writes:
Emboldened by the “victories,” Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal recently reached a secret agreement on the need to launch a “popular intifada” against Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources in Ramallah revealed.
The two men believe that such an intifada at this stage would further isolate Israel and earn the Palestinians even more sympathy in the international arena, the sources said.
Abbas and Mashaal are aware, the sources noted, that the Palestinians are now not ready for another military confrontation with Israel — neither in the West Bank nor in the Gaza Strip.
That is why the two men agreed that the best and only option facing the Palestinians these days is a “popular intifada” that would see Palestinian youths engage in daily confrontations with Israeli soldiers and settlers, especially in the West Bank.
The Palestinian leadership knows they are best served by televised violence that pits a powerful Israeli military against seemingly helpless Palestinians rather than by terror attacks or missile strikes. But it isn’t likely that their concerted campaign of low-level violence won’t soon escalate to the sort of attacks on Jewish targets that have always bolstered the popularity of the Palestinians groups that carry them out.
Nor is it likely than even a re-elected Barack Obama, who would no longer need to fear a backlash from Jewish voters over Israel, would be able to sustain a diplomatic campaign against a re-elected Benjamin Netanyahu while Fatah and Hamas were engaged in a competition over which presented the toughest approach to the Israelis.
The motivation for Abbas to join forces with Hamas is clear. As Haaretz reports today, a new poll shows Abbas would lose an election against Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh if an election were held. While Abbas, who is currently serving the eighth year of a four-year presidential term, may have no intention of allowing a free vote that would give the Islamist dictators of Gaza a chance to run the West Bank too, the poll shows Hamas’s violence gives it a crucial electoral advantage. The same survey said that were Haniyeh to face Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah leader serving multiple life-in-prison terms for the murders he ordered during the second intifada, he would lose.
As Abu Toahmeh writes, Hamas and Fatah do have different short-term goals. Fatah hopes to force Israel to retreat from all of the territory it won in 1967, including in Jerusalem and its suburbs where they would hope to create an independent Palestinian state, albeit not one prepared to end the conflict. On the other hand, Hamas still believes it can destroy Israel altogether.
This demonstrates the foolishness of the discussion on the left about the need for the U.S. to join Egypt and Turkey and recognize Hamas. But it should also illustrate the folly of a new diplomatic initiative whose Fatah beneficiaries have made common cause with the so-called extremists of Hamas. The illusions that many Israelis harbored about Fatah’s peaceful intentions were exploded by the terror of the second intifada. It remains to be seen whether the fantasies of foreign liberals, including those in the administration, will survive a third.