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Abbas has lost his people's trust and seems more irrelevant than ever

After his pathetic remarks concerning the Gaza Strip, it's hard to see how Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas could ever regain the confidence and trust of his countrymen. His admission of failure to do anything for the people of Gaza and claim that they are just fuel for the "merchants of war" have provoked widespread condemnation.

On the face of it, the latter remark seemed to be a calculated slur against Hamas and the other resistance forces. Not surprisingly, it was met with undiluted scorn, for when Israeli officials announced a few days earlier that they had a "bank" of targets that included the Hamas leadership, Ismail Haniyeh responded quickly that the blood of him and his colleagues is no more valuable than that of the children and women who are being killed.

A few days later, three of Haniyeh's own relatives were killed. The message was clear; in Gaza, everyone is paying the ultimate price for life with freedom or death with dignity. After all, as far as Palestinians are concerned, Israel makes no distinction between civilians and combatants.

Mr Abbas is not only out of sync with the embattled enclave. In the West Bank, even from within his own Fatah movement, there was also dismay and derision at his comments. Hussam Khader, a member of Fatah's Revolutionary Council, went as far as to assert that the resistance in Gaza will succeed, and that Abbas will leave office.

No politician, however gifted and experienced, is immune from making media gaffes. However, showing such a lack of sensitivity and disrespect for one's people is never acceptable. Hence, the recent suppression of West Bank solidarity rallies for Gaza by Abbas's security forces, held in Hebron and Nablus, was deemed to be utterly disgraceful.

Regionally, the official Palestinian position was considered to be even more scandalous. According to Morocco's Foreign Minister, Salah Al Din Mizwar, his country had put forward a request for an emergency meeting of the Arab League's foreign ministers to discuss the situation in Gaza, but President Abbas asked for it to be postponed.

Given the savagery of the Israeli aggression against Palestinians this intervention by Abbas was nothing but an abdication of duty and a pitiful attempt to ease the international pressure on the Israeli occupation. Despite tenuous claims to be their leader, the Palestinians in Gaza recall with bitterness Abbas's refusal to visit the territory both before and after the reconciliation agreement. His indifference to the plight of 40,000 government employees who have not been paid their salaries for months has not helped his popularity.

Of course this is not the first time that Abbas has turned his back on the people of Gaza in their hour of need. In January 2009 he refused to attend a summit of Arab states to discuss Israel's so-called Operation Cast Lead, a brutal 21-day bombardment and invasion which left thousands of Palestinians dead or wounded. In his absence, it was left to Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to address the summit.

Reacting to this latest attack on the Gaza Strip and events across occupied Palestine, Meshaal sent a stark warning to the Israelis: "Within a short time, you will not find any Palestinians who dare to talk about a state based on 1967 [borders]." This was a reference to the existing faux diplomatic formula that limits the territory for a Palestinian state to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

As it now stands, even with its limited resources, Hamas has managed to transfer the struggle to the territories occupied in 1948. Although the home-made rockets have not caused damage anywhere near the carnage that Israel is inflicting on Gaza, they have paralysed the whole country. Millions of Israelis scutter to bomb shelters and tourists are leaving in droves, causing substantial harm to the tourism industry.

By the Israelis' own admission, what Hamas has achieved in one week the combined armies of the Arab states have failed to do in six decades. When the movement warned that it could bomb Tel Aviv within one hour with its J80 rocket, named after assassinated Hamas commander Ahmad Al-Jabari, it was clearly not grandstanding. Not even the vaunted US-supplied Iron Dome missile defence system could prevent the attack.

If Hamas can strike at will and at targets of its own choosing, then it could develop the capability to achieve its declared strategic objectives. This is a major headache for the Israelis. Since their intelligence agencies and spies have no idea where the missiles are made and stored, there is now talk of the Israeli government offering the resistance millions of dollars to disarm. That is how desperate they are, and how much of their bombast is pure folly.

It is now self-evident that the resistance groups in Gaza have actually created unprecedented conditions that place President Abbas and his negotiating team in a favourable position, but will he exploit the growing deterrent capability of the resistance to his own advantage? Highly improbable. Old habits die hard and as far as Mahmoud Abbas is concerned his hatred of Hamas blinds him to the possibilities to advance the Palestinian cause, so he will continue to grant free political concessions to the Israelis, incapable of thinking beyond his nose. For this reason, his comments and unwillingness to challenge Israeli hegemony make his position increasingly untenable. He is more irrelevant than ever before.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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