It now remains to be seen whether Hamas will forgive Abbas for "collaborating" with Israel, and join forces with him.

As of last week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will think twice before he condemns any rocket or terror attack on Israel.

Alarmed by Hamas's growing popularity among Palestinians, especially in wake of its purported "victory," Abbas appears to have completely changed his attitude toward the Islamist movement and its terror attacks against Israel.

Abbas's new attitude toward Hamas has prompted some Palestinians to wonder, quite sarcastically, whether he was planning to grow a beard and join the Islamist movement.

They pointed out that this was the same Abbas who, on more than one occasion, had accused Hamas of plotting to assassinate him and topple his regime in the West Bank. They also noted that this was the same Abbas whom Hamas had expelled from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007.

Abbas was one of the first Arab leaders to congratulate Hamas on its "victory" over Israel during the recent eight-day confrontation.

Hamas announced that Abbas phoned its prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, one day after the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire went into effect to "congratulate him on Hamas's victory and offer condolences for the martyrs."

Abbas's phone call to the Hamas leader did not come as a surprise.

Since the beginning of the Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip, Abbas has been begging Hamas to forget about its differences with his Fatah faction and agree to "national unity."

Until recently, Abbas used to mock Hamas's rockets, calling them "ineffective." It is not that Abbas was opposed to the idea of launching rockets at Israel; rather, his position was based on the argument that these rockets were not inflicting enough casualties and damage on the Israeli side.

Over the past few years, Abbas had publicly denounced Hamas for providing Israel with an "excuse" to attack the Gaza Strip by launching the "ineffective" rockets at Israeli cities and towns.

But during the last confrontation, Abbas did not utter a word against Hamas and other radical groups in the Gaza Strip.

Instead, he chose to issue strong condemnations against Israel, holding it fully responsible for initiating the violence.

In public statements, Abbas and his top aides in the West Bank accused Israel of perpetrating "war crimes" by targeting "innocent civilians." They also heaped praise on Hamas and Islamic Jihad for their "steadfastness in the face of Israeli aggression."

Not once did Abbas and his aides denounce Hamas and Islamic Jihad for firing rockets at Israel. The rockets, from their perspective, were no longer "ineffective" because this time they were extracting a heavy price from Israel.

As soon as the cease-fire went into effect, Abbas's top Fatah officials joined Hamas supporters in the Gaza Strip who took to the streets to celebrate "victory" over Israel.

Zakariya al-Agha, a senior Fatah leader, praised Hamas and Islamic Jihad for launching rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv "until Israel asked for a cease-fire."

Abbas Zaki, another Fatah official, boasted that Abbas and the Fatah leadership in the West Bank had helped provide "political justification" for the rocket attacks against Israel.

Until the last round of violence, Abbas considered Hamas to be his number one enemy. That view was why his security forces had been waging a relentless crackdown on Hamas supporters in the West Bank.

Obviously, Abbas has now changed his policy and Hamas is no longer a threat to him and his regime. Now he will have to stop arresting -- and torturing -- Hamas members in the West Bank in the hope that the Islamist movement will forgive him for "collaborating" with Israel.

It now remains to be seen whether Hamas will forgive Abbas for his "sins," and join forces with him.

Related Topics:  Palestinian Authority  |  Khaled Abu Toameh receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free gatestone institute mailing list

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