When the dust settles, politically, Hamas will win

The biggest loser from the ongoing Hamas rocket barrage is not Israel. It’s Mahmoud Abbas.

He was already losing before Hamas opened fire. He is now down and out. A totally irrelevant figure in the recent unrest.

What was the spark that lit both the violence on the Arab street and the Hamas rockets? It was the decision of Mahmoud Abbas, once again, to call for a Palestinian election. What else is new?  He has been doing it regularly ever since he lost the initial Palestinian election in 2006. Then, Hamas candidates won 44.45% of the vote and 74 of the 132 seat chamber, while Fatah received 41.43% of the vote and only 45 seats. 

One result of these elections was a bloody Palestinian civil war when Abbas’s Fatah party tried to impose Palestinian Authority rule in the Gaza Strip. When the Palestinians are not united in hating Israel and Jews they are fighting and untrusting of each other. 

The elections were called off by Abbas, who claimed that Israel refused to allow Jerusalem Arabs to vote. This is not true. In previous elections, non-Israel Arab residents of Jerusalem were allowed to vote outside the city boundaries. In other words, Mahmoud Abbas’s excuse was a deception. Why? Because surveys showed him losing both in the popular vote against Hamas, but also failing numbers in the election for president. His presidential rivals included businessman Mohammad Dahlan, exiled by Abbas in 2011 for being a serious political rival, and also Marwan Barghouti, a five-time life sentenced mass murderer. These rivals, when combined with the rising popularity of Hamas, show the Palestinian propensity for radical hardline terrorists rather than pragmatic non-corrupt politicians, a class in short supply in the Palestinian community. 

When no one advances the prosperity of the Arabs, they turn to more forceful and dangerous leaders.

Palestinians have constantly been failed by their leaders. That is why their leaders are afraid of the outcome of elections. 

Hamas has stepped into this void. The frustration of the canceled elections, coming, as it did, prior to Ramadan, led to the violence in Jerusalem. Heard among the noisy protests were chants in support of Hamas.  Hamas flags and banners were unfurled at the large religious gatherings on the Temple Mount at the al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan prayers. Protesters called Abbas an “Israeli collaborator.”

The Arab street viewed Hamas’s prolonged and powerful rocketing as a sign of Palestinian strength and interpreted the fear of Abbas’s Palestinian Authority to proceed to elections as weakness.

Mahmoud Abbas further weakened himself by blaming Israel for the Hamas rocket attack rather than attacking Hamas’s assault on Israel as being harmful to Palestinian progress to peace and prosperity. He appeared to be functioning as a cheerleader for his political opponent.

Mahmoud Abbas is fearful that Hamas-supporting violence does not spread into the territory under PA control. Hamas captured the Islamic narrative by boasting that it was they who championed the Palestinian defense of Jerusalem, though the logic of firing rockets at the holy city as a defense defies me.

However, Abbas does have serious reasons to worry about being overthrown by Hamas supporters. 

He has called meetings in Ramallah to discuss ways of ending Israeli “aggression.” He should be more worried about taking steps to offset inevitable Hamas aggression. 

It is with Israel’s security help that the political and military challenges to Abbas have been reduced. 

Israel security forces are constantly patrolling and arresting Hamas perpetrators of violence and terror emanating out of Areas A and B, both under PA control. As well has slamming potential and real killers of Israelis into jail. In other words, Israel is doing Mahmoud Abbas’s dirty work even as he blames Israel for being able to keep his head on his shoulders. 

The actions of Israeli special security forces are securing the safety and the continuation of the unelected reign of Mahmoud Abbas and his corrupt cohorts. 

Despite this, or because of it, Abbas’s control of his own people is becoming more tenuous. 

Hamas will come out of its unprovoked war with Israel militarily weakened but politically enhanced in Palestinian eyes. They look at Hamas as champions of their cause, and they see their leaders in Ramallah as nothing more than empty suits with pockets bulging with money begged from other countries and foreign charities.

It is certain that this grievance will grow after the dust of the current Gaza war settles. 

Barry Shaw is the International Public Diplomacy Director at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. He is the author of many books on the subject including Israel Reclaiming the Narrative.

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