Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Militant stance of Hamas appears to hurt Abbas in West Bank

RAMALLAH, West Bank —Hamas' latest battle against Israel sparked feverish Palestinian pride that spread beyond the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority-led West Bank. But it has also deepened a sense here that the authority's nonviolent, diplomacy-based approach to winning a Palestinian state is increasingly futile.

It is a commonly held view in both territories that the Islamist militants of Hamas — which refuses to recognize Israel — defeated their enemy, and that they did it with weapons, not words.

"They put Israel in its place. They forced Israel to withdraw," Amanda Izzat, a 23-year-old university student who was shopping in Ramallah on Saturday, said of Hamas.

The eight-day conflict also underscored the stark differences between Hamas and its rival Fatah, which leads the Palestinian Authority. In a region where Arab Spring uprisings pushed political Islam to the forefront, some analysts say that Fatah's secular nationalism looks more anachronistic by the day and that Hamas' sudden strength has fueled momentum for a more aggressive, even radical, posture in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Fatah member, dismissed Islamism as a fad. But she said she is increasingly worried that Palestinians will see armed resistance, which Fatah renounced in 1988, as the only mechanism that appears to win concessions from Israel.

"It would be easy to get the world's attention by unleashing violence," Ashrawi said. "But that's not a tool we want to use. There's so much tragic loss of life."

Hamas' rising profile has posed the most immediate challenge to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who played the role of bystander throughout the crisis. As Hamas' leader-in-exile, Khaled Meshal, negotiated the cease-fire under the mediation of Cairo's Islamist-led government, Abbas envoys traveled to Gaza, but he did not. Abbas has not been to the strip since 2006, when Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections. Hamas, which Israel and the United States deem a terrorist group, seized control of Gaza one year later.

The Gaza conflict "left Abbas politically naked," said Mahdi Abdul Hadi, chairman of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs.

It also eclipsed the buildup to what Abbas and his supporters tout as his own form of resistance to Israel: A bid set to be submitted Thursday at the United Nations General Assembly to upgrade the Palestinians' standing to nonmember state. The resolution, which the Palestinians could use to challenge Israeli actions at the International Criminal Court, is expected to be approved.

Last week, Abbas rebuffed the latest call by the United States — this time in the form of a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who stopped in Ramallah before going to Cairo — to drop the bid. He has also ignored opposition from Israel, which says that only negotiations can lead to a Palestinian state. Israel has issued public and veiled threats of withholding funding from the authority, or even toppling Abbas, if the bid succeeds.

Fatah leaders say they are not worried by the ascent of Islamists, although Western diplomats say they detect a sense of concern from the party.

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