Today is Mahmoud Abbas’s big day at the United Nations, as the Palestinian Authority’s Third World allies and Western sympathizers are uniting to throw the Fatah leader a bone in the form of an upgrade in the group’s status at the world body. The symbolism of this move, especially since it is timed to occur on the 65th anniversary of the 1947 UN vote to partition Palestine, is not without some value to those that think the recognition of the PA’s rights in the territory the Jewish state conquered in 1967 is a step toward forcing more Israeli withdrawals. But the talk about the PA being the government of an independent Palestinian state, even on that only exists in theory, is an escape from reality, not a look into the future. That’s because the people that already run an independent Palestinian state have their eyes on Abbas’s rotten borough in the West Bank and are planning to put it under different management.
While Abbas is taking a bow at the charade in New York where he will behave as the head of a virtual state, one of the leaders of the rival Hamas movement was talking about a merger with Fatah that would put the Islamists on course to run the West Bank. As the New York Times reports, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal spoke from his new headquarters in Doha, Qatar today and declared his intention to step up efforts to finally forge a unity agreement with Fatah. Though the two groups have been dancing around an accord for more than a year, the decision by Hamas to re-launch the effort in the wake of its missile offensive against Israel is no coincidence. Having gained ground in terms of popularity among Palestinians in the only way one can in their political culture — via violence — Hamas is about to cash in its chips and seek to win control of the West Bank by more peaceful means.
Meshaal is seeking to seal a unity deal by having Hamas included in new elections for the Palestine Liberation Organization, the alliance of terrorist groups headed by Yasir Arafat that signed the Oslo Accords with Israel. The Times reports that Meshaal will be given a senior post in the PLO via appointment by Abbas or a vote by its governing council. That will set in motion a train of events that could leave Hamas gaining control of the West Bank by winning an election just as its victory in the Palestinian legislative elections preceded the violent coup by which it seized the Gaza in 2006.
That puts Hamas in the awkward position of attempting to run the Palestinian Authority even though it was created as a result of the peace accord with Israel. But that seeming contradiction doesn’t worry Meshaal or anybody else in Hamas. They are committed to “resistance” against Israel and have no plans of recognizing it or working toward peace. But it does put them in position to establish its dominance via the ballot box.
The reason why Abbas is currently serving the eighth year of a four-year term as president of the PA is that he has always rightly feared defeat if Hamas was given a chance to unseat him. But he knows that dissatisfaction with his rule is growing and that it might be smarter to deal with Hamas now while he still has some leverage over them rather than later on when he might have none. Though consummation of the unity deal is a long way off, the Islamist group knows that if it plays its cards right, sooner or later it could be running things in Ramallah the way it currently does in Gaza.
The bottom line here is that those who think today’s vote will give Abbas the strength he needs to hold off Hamas are not paying attention to what is going on in the region. Though Fatah’s friends in Europe think they can keep him afloat, Hamas’s backing from Egypt and Turkey and the financial and military support they get from Iran have changed the balance of forces in Palestinian politics. A symbolic vote isn’t convincing anyone that Fatah rather than Hamas is the face of Palestinian nationalism. Though Abbas is having a good day in New York, it is Meshaal and the rest of Hamas that is about to reap the benefits of the Arab–or should we say, Islamist–Spring that is threatening to plunge the Middle East into more darkness.