Gaza raids boost Hamas popularity at Abbas's expense

January 3, 2009 - 0:0

Hamas's star is rising among Palestinians as each new Israeli bomb falls on Gaza, while Western-backed president Mahmud Abbas is becoming increasingly isolated, analysts say.

The moderate Abbas, who lost control of Gaza when the Islamists seized it last year from forces loyal to him, has even been accused by Hamas and others of seeking to retake power in the enclave with Israeli complicity.
Abbas has repeatedly called for an immediate halt to the Israeli offensive in Gaza, but his pleas have been eclipsed by the gory images of casualties and of protests across the Arab world broadcast on Arab television, particularly Al-Jazeera.
At the same time, Hamas is using its own Al-Aqsa television and Internet site to mount a campaign against Abbas, regularly showing footage of him with Israeli leaders.
Mushir al-Masdri, leader of the Hamas group in the Palestinian parliament, has even gone so far as to claim that Abbas ""knew the exact date of the surprise Israeli operation in Gaza.""
Increasingly, the Palestinian man in the street is viewing Hamas as the cutting edge of resistance against Israel, while Abbas and certain Arab governments, particularly that of Egypt, are seen as having given in to the Jewish state.
Abbas, who has been engaged in peace talks with Israel since November 2007, finds himself in a no-win situation, analysts say. It is politically difficult for him to continue advocating a deal with the very people whose bombs are killing and wounding hundreds of Palestinians.
""President Abbas is in a less-than-enviable position,"" says Samir Awa, chairman of the political science department at the West Bank's Bir Zeit University.
""Israel has not left him any room for maneuver. He cannot continue defending the idea of negotiations when they are not bringing any results.""
Those talks, meant to lead to the creation of a Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel, have made virtually no progress. They have been undermined by continuing Jewish settlement in the West Bank, violence in and around Gaza, squabbling between Hamas and Abbas's secular Fatah faction and repeated upheavals in the Israeli government.
""Israel has announced that it is engaged in a war without quarter in Gaza, which has left Abbas, in his capacity as president of all the Palestinian people, with no other choice than to proclaim his support for Gaza,"" added Awad.
George Giacaman, director of Ramallah's Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy, said the war over Gaza will be crucial in determining whether Abbas's Palestinian Authority stands or falls.
""The aggression against Gaza is lifting Hamas's popularity"" while the ""weakening of Abbas is the fault of Israel and the United States, who are responsible for the absence of progress in the peace talks.""
""The future of the Palestinian Authority is in the hands of the United States and Israel. If the Palestinian people do not see significant progress in the negotiations, the Authority will be weakened even more and risks not being able to recover,"" Giacaman said.
Those who stand up to Israel have traditionally been the darlings of Palestinian public opinion, and ""what is happening now strengthens Hamas's popularity because the Palestinian and Arab man in the street see it as a victim of the injustice and daily death being inflicted on it.""
Samih Shabib, political columnist at Al-Ayyam daily newspaper in Ramallah, said: ""As things are going now Abu Mazen (Abbas) will be extremely weakened, especially when Hamas announces the end of his mandate on January 9.""
Abbas was elected for a four-year term in January 2005, and with no new elections in sight is seeking to remain in power after his term runs out on January 9. Hamas has said it will not recognize him.
""Abu Mazen is not even capable of holding a general congress of his Fatah party and is having difficulties convincing the Palestinian people that his authority has any role in what's happening in Gaza,"" Shabib said.
""This plays into the hands of Hamas, because whatever happens it will present itself as victorious after the Gaza conflict ends,"" he said.
(Source: AFP