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Who is betraying the Palestinians, Hamas or Abbas?

March 3, 2020 at 9:53 am

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) receives Hamas delegations at his office in Ramallah, West Bank on 1 August 2017 [Palestinian Presidency/Anadolu Agency]

Donald Trump’s “peace plan” gives to Israel almost everything that it wants, while the Palestinians are to be bought off and given territorial crumbs from the occupation table. The “deal of the century” was criticised around the world as a prescription for perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, although many of the critics support the deal behind closed doors. The Palestinians, meanwhile, are looking at their leadership positions, which are confusing. Although both Hamas and Fatah rejected the deal in public, each camp accuses the other of supporting it.

Fatah, of course, dominates all of the official Palestinian institutions, including the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the Palestinian National Council (PNC) and the Palestinian Authority (PA), but it was Hamas which won on the last occasion that the people in occupied Palestine went to the polls. With Fatah in control of the PA in the occupied West Bank, and Hamas running the Gaza Strip, each side accuses the other of coordination with the US and Israel to implement Trump’s deal.

Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, who is also head of the PLO and PA President, said that the deal “cancels out the rights of the Palestinians” and “cannot achieve peace.” A future Palestinian state based on this deal would look like “Swiss cheese” and “we will confront its application on the ground.” To do this, Abbas pledged to go to the Gaza Strip and meet with Hamas in order to achieve Palestinian unity and thus be able to stand strong in the face of the US-Israeli plan to eradicate the Palestinian cause.

Hamas also condemned the deal, and its former leader Khaled Meshaal said that the movement is confident that it will fail: “We will make it fail.” He pointed out that Hamas has already started to take practical measures towards political unity.

READ: Russian foreign minister meets Hamas leader in Moscow

Meshaal’s successor as head of the Hamas Political Bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, said that President Abbas is welcome in Gaza. “We call him to visit as soon as possible in order to start taking practical joint measures against the slap of the century.”

Hearing such remarks from both sides, the Palestinian people were very happy. In their eyes, they saw the Palestinian leadership united around a strong and effective plan against Trump’s deal. Their happiness was short-lived.

Abbas cancelled his meeting with the Hamas leadership in Gaza, claiming that the movement did not reply to his application to visit the coastal enclave. According to PLO Executive Committee member Azzam Al-Ahmad, Fatah and PLO delegations were ready to visit Gaza, but were waiting for Hamas’s invitation. PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat said that the invitation was not forthcoming so the meeting was cancelled. Al-Ahmad claimed that Hamas did not want to meet with Fatah in order to perpetuate the internal Palestinian division and thus help to implement the deal of the century. One senior aide of Abbas, PA Minister Hussein Al-Sheik, alleged that Hamas was dealing with both Israel and the US to implement the deal and accused the movement of wanting to create a Muslim Brotherhood emirate in the Gaza Strip.

Further allegations were made that an Israeli security delegation, which visited Qatar last month, met with Hamas leaders in order to agree on joint measures to implement the deal of the century. Hamas denied this, and Israel pointed out that the delegation met with Qatari officials.

Claiming that Hamas did not allow Fatah supporters in Gaza to commemorate Yasser Arafat’s death, Abbas accused the Islamic Resistance Movement’s leaders and members of being “spies” for Israel. “We have been suffering from spies here and there, and they will end up in the dustbin of history,” he insisted. Hamas ignored him. “Abbas’s speech is trivial,” noted spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

It is all rather pathetic for Fatah to claim that Abbas and other senior Fatah and PLO officials need an “invitation” to visit Gaza. Nobody, I’m sure, would block their entry. The visit of two PLO officials in the middle of last month and the meetings they held with the different Palestinian factions is proof of that. It is almost as if Abbas and his advisers were looking for an excuse not to build bridges with Hamas after his initial strong rhetoric against the deal of the century.

Indeed, Abbas was apparently told to tone down his criticism of the deal, and this was very clear in his speeches. He was given the opportunity to speak at the Arab League Summit and the UN Security Council and was then told that that was enough.

READ: Russia’s Lavrov meets Fatah member in Moscow

Moreover, the PA is still collaborating with the Israeli occupation on security matters, acting as Israel’s surrogate police force controlling the Palestinians in the West Bank. Abbas has continued to cut the salaries of Palestinian MPs affiliated to Hamas, as well as the stipends paid to current and former detainees. The sanctions that the PA introduced against the Palestinians in Gaza are still in place, and critics of the occupation are still being arrested.

It is fairly obvious to reasonable people that the group which claims to be against Trump’s plan but is known to be collaborating with Israel is working against the interest of the Palestinians. Monitoring the comments made by Fatah, PA and PLO officials confirms this, as do remarks made to Al Jazeera this week by the US Ambassador in Israel, David M Friedman. America, said Friedman, maintains “back channels of communication with Palestinian leaders, even with the Palestinian government” in relation to the deal of the century.

If Mahmoud Abbas is convinced that what he is doing is in the best interests of the people of Palestine, why is he still not issuing a Presidential Decree to hold elections so that the people can decide for themselves who best represents them and does not betray them? Hamas has given up all of its preconditions for elections to be held; it trusts the judgement of the Palestinian people. Who is betraying the people of Palestine, Hamas or Abbas? Let the people decide through the ballot box.

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