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PA President Mahmoud Abbas needs to decide which side he’s on

April 21, 2017 at 3:32 pm

Palestinian protesters carry posters depicting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on 14 April 2017 [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]

It is perfectly normal for Palestinians to have political differences with the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), but it is wholly unacceptable for any Palestinian, official or otherwise, to call for the destruction and burning of the Gaza Strip in order to crush the group. Such threats are manifestly shameful and can only result in national disaster.

The fact that they have been issued by officials in Ramallah with increasing regularity reveals the extent to which the Palestinian Authority has become embedded with the Israeli occupation, aside from “security cooperation”. The interests of PA officials, as well as their motives and ways of thinking, seem to be in complete sync with that of their Israeli counterparts. So intertwined with Israel is the PA rhetoric, in fact, that it is almost impossible to distinguish which is which.

Read: Hamas slams Abbas’ policy of intimidation

Listen, for example, to any of the weekly sermons delivered in Ramallah’s Tashrifat Mosque by Mahmoud Habbash, the supreme judge and presidential advisor on religious affairs; compare their tone and content to statements by Israeli officials and you’ll find one fundamental message: there can be no peace or reconciliation with Hamas, so military confrontation is both desirable and inevitable. It is a truly scandalous state of affairs.

Image of Mahmoud Habbash, the supreme judge and presidential advisor on religious affairs in Ramallah on November 30, 2010 [Issam Rimawi/Apaimages]

Image of Mahmoud Habbash, the supreme judge and presidential advisor on religious affairs in Ramallah on November 30, 2010 [Issam Rimawi/Apaimages]

If seen from the point of view of national liberation and independence, instead of seeking to smash Hamas the PA should welcome the fact that the Israeli occupation army can no longer enter the Gaza Strip at will to vandalise and destroy the homes of Palestinian civilians or abduct their children. It should celebrate the fact that there are no Israeli settler gangs in the enclave that can destroy olive groves belonging to Palestinians and steal more of their land. Needless to say, the Israelis do all of these and more on the outskirts of Ramallah without as much as a whimper from the authority. When Palestinian villagers hold weekly protests at the growth of illegal settlements on their land and are attacked by Jewish settlers or Israeli soldiers — sometimes both at once — the PA’s 70,000 “security officers” are nowhere to be seen.

In as much as President Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies such as Habbash would like to change the status quo in Gaza, the PA does not have the military means or capability to carry out its threats. An undertaking of this magnitude would require the help and support of a neighbouring power; in this case either Egypt or Israel. Recent history has shown that this is a likely scenario.

The bellicose rhetoric from Ramallah and Tel Aviv has given rise to much speculation about yet another Israeli-led military campaign against the Palestinians living in Gaza. If Habbash’s sermons and fatwas are anything to go by, Ramallah will, on this occasion, be overt in offering its blessings.

As for Egypt, its approval of another brutal Israeli military offensive would be no less forthcoming. For those with short memories, it is worth recalling that Israel’s 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead was launched less than 48 hours after the then Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, stood in Cairo on 25th December and declared that something had to be done about Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. “This is something that has to be stopped,” she said, “and this is what we’re going to do.” Two days later her threat was put into effect with devastating consequences for Palestinian civilians.

Image of former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel, Tzipi Livni [file photo]

Image of former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel, Tzipi Livni [file photo]

Fast forward to 2017 and a new wave of threats has reached a crescendo. Israel’s Minister of Defence [sic], the extreme right-wing fanatic Avigdor Lieberman, has vowed that there will be no half-way measures this time; the next murderous onslaught against Gaza will continue “until the other side waves the white flag.”

Despite the widespread public outrage at Habbash’s speeches, President Abbas has refused to distance himself from them, thus conveying tacit support for his vitriolic words. The truth of the matter is that there is no difference between the president’s views and that of his religious advisor. Speaking last week at a conference in Bahrain with the ambassadors of the State of Palestine to Arab and Islamic countries, Abbas threatened to take “unprecedented steps” to end the political division between his West Bank-based government and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. “These days, we are in a dangerous and tough situation that requires decisive steps,” he declared, “and we are going to take these decisive steps. We are going to take unprecedented steps in the coming days to end the division.”

After decades of diplomatic work on behalf of the Palestinian national movement, Mahmoud Abbas should know that reconciliation of any kind requires favourable conditions to thrive. Threats of fire and brimstone can only poison the atmosphere and perpetuate mistrust. He should remember that that the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip are no less Palestinian than those in the West Bank; they too aspire to the same national objective of a free and independent Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital. Why, then, should they be treated as enemies?

By withholding wages due to its own civil servants in Gaza and giving succour to Israeli jingoism, the PA in Ramallah will gain nothing. The only real beneficiary from such misguided policies will be the Occupying Power, Israel. It is high time for Ramallah to engage in an honest reality check and decide which side Abbas is actually on, Israel or Palestine. It’s still not too late.

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