The Palestinians: Why Is Abbas Running After Hamas?
Instead of searching for ways to revive the peace process with Israel, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been busy seeking permission from Hamas to visit the Gaza Strip.
However those who think that Hamas would one day agree to cede control over the Gaza Strip are living in an illusion. It would be better for Abbas if he invested his energies in reviving the peace process instead of courting Hamas.
Abbas, who has not been able to visit the Gaza Strip ever since Hamas drove the Palestinian Authority out of the area in the summer of 2007, says he would like to travel to the Gaza Strip to talk with Hamas leaders about the establishment of a new Palestinian government that would prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections and pave the way for reconciliation between his Fatah faction and the Islamist movement.
On March 15, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of a Facebook campaign inspired by the current wave of popular uprisings sweeping through the Arab world.
In response to the campaign, Abbas immediately announced that he was prepared to go to the Gaza Strip to talk with Hamas about ways of ending the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip: he launched his initiative to travel to the Gaza Strip after calls from many Palestinians to Fatah and Hamas to end their power struggle.
His announcement, however, is seen by many Palestinians as an attempt to absorb popular discontent with the ongoing power struggle between Hamas and Fatah.
Abbas's initiative is aimed at showing Palestinians that -- contrary to Hamas allegations -- he is interested in putting an end to the dispute.
Abbas's critics argue that his initiative is nothing but a ploy intended for local consumption because he does not want to be held responsible for obstructing "national unity."
But other Palestinians say that Abbas's plan is also designed to send a message to the Americans and Europeans that unless they step up pressure on Israel he will have to join forces with Hamas.
The Palestinian leader wants the US and EU to force Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians, including a complete cessation of construction in West Bank settlements and east Jerusalem neighborhoods. The message he is sending to the Americans and Europeans is: Get me all that you can from Israel or else I will go to Hamas.
Abbas's initiative could also be directed against Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, whom he asked a few weeks ago to form a new government.
Abbas's offer to discuss with Hamas the formation of a new government came while Fayyad continues to negotiate with representatives of various Palestinian political factions about the formation of a new cabinet. Some Palestinians are wondering whether Abbas is trying to bypass or marginalize his prime minister.
In the meantime, Hamas leaders also appear to be suspicious of Abbas's true intentions. Many Hamas leaders have dismissed his initiative as a "conspiracy" aimed at undermining the Islamist movement's authority in the Gaza Strip. Hamas's armed wing, Izaddin al-Kassam, has even gone as far as threatening to assassinate Abbas if he dares to set foot in the Gaza Strip.
Whatever his motives are, it is obvious that Abbas is just wasting precious time.
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