If Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is really interested in returning to the negotiating table with Israel, he needs to decide whether he is on the side of his peace partners in Israel or his political enemies in Hamas. Pictured: Abbas (right) meets with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal on November 24, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt. (Photo by Mohammed al-Hams/Khaled Mashaal's Office of Media via Getty Images)
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas said this month that he is interested in resuming peace talks with Israel. Abbas made his statement on the eve of a meeting he held on November 23 with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.
Abbas specified that he wants the peace talks with Israel to resume under the auspices of Russia and the three other members of the International Quartet: European Union, United Nations, and the United States.
If Abbas is really interested in returning to the negotiating table with Israel, he needs to decide whether he is on the side of his peace partners in Israel or his political enemies in Hamas. Abbas needs to decide whether he belongs to the pro-peace camp in Israel and the Arab world, or the enemies of peace, including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and their patrons in Iran.
For now, it seems that Abbas wants it both ways. On the one hand, he is presenting himself as a moderate and pragmatic leader who is seeking to revive the peace process with Israel. Abbas has been sending this message not only to the Russians, but also to representatives of the US administration and the EU with whom he has been meeting on a regular basis in recent months.
On the other hand, Abbas is also telling Palestinians that he has a great deal of sympathy for Hamas and is even prepared to include it in a future Palestinian unity government.
This is the same Hamas that does not recognize Israel's right to exist and opposes any form of normalization or peace agreements with the "Zionist entity."
Abbas, in other words, is telling Westerners that he supports peace with Israel while reaching out to the Iranian-backed terrorist group that openly states its intention to eliminate Israel and wage jihad (holy war) on Jews.
Hamas is a threat not only to Israel, but to Abbas and his PA regime, as well. Abbas and Hamas have been at each other's throats since 2007, when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip through a bloody coup, and threw some of Abbas's men off the rooftops of multistory buildings.
This month, Abbas again proved that he is trying to have it both ways regarding the peace process with Israel and Hamas, after UK Home Secretary Priti Patel delivered to parliament "an order to outlaw the militant Islamist terrorist movement Hamas in its entirety from the UK." Common sense dictates that Abbas should have welcomed the move against his rivals in Hamas, a group that denounces him as a traitor, has plotted a coup, and does not hide its desire to see him toppled from his throne of power.
The UK decision to outlaw Hamas is undoubtedly good news for Abbas, who for the past decade has been making huge efforts to undermine Hamas and end its rule over the two million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip.
"Hamas has significant terrorist capability, including access to extensive and sophisticated weaponry, as well as terrorist training facilities," Patel said in a statement on November 19. "That is why today I have acted to proscribe Hamas in its entirety."
Instead of welcoming the UK's decision to ban Hamas, Abbas was one of the first Palestinians to condemn the move. By condemning the decision, Abbas is sending a message to the international community that he actually does support terror and Hamas.
A statement issued by Abbas's foreign ministry in Ramallah condemned the British government's decision to label Hamas a terrorist organization. The statement said that the Palestinians consider the British move "an unjustified attack on the Palestinian people."
The most laughable part of the Palestinian ministry's statement is the one arguing that the British decision "places obstacles in the way of achieving peace." How can a decision to outlaw a terrorist group that has sworn never to have peace with Israel be seen as an "obstacle" to peace?
Yet, in the world of the Palestinian Authority, it seems that banning a radical terrorist group is a bad thing.
"The [Palestinian] ministry calls on the British government to stop the policy of double standards and immediately retract this decision," the statement went on to say.
The dirty game of double standards, however, is one that, over the past decades, Abbas and the PA leadership has perfected.
The measures that Abbas and the PA have taken to fight Hamas are far more serious than the British government's decision to outlaw the terrorist group.
In 2007, Abbas issued a "presidential decree" that effectively banned Hamas and its armed militias. The move came shortly after Abbas dismissed the Hamas-led Palestinian unity government.
Since 2018, Abbas has imposed a series of economic and financial sanctions on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip as part of an effort to encourage Palestinians there to revolt against the terrorist group, Hamas.
Because of the sanctions, which have so far failed to remove Hamas from power, tens of thousands of Palestinians have lost their jobs or sole source of income. The sanctions in the Gaza Strip, needless to say, have only aggravated the economic and humanitarian crisis.
In addition, Abbas has suspended the salaries of Hamas members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, fired Hamas-affiliated employees from PA-controlled governing bodies and arrested thousands of supporters of the group in the West Bank.
On the same day that Abbas's ministry denounced the British decision, his security forces arrested Hussein Ziyad, a Bethlehem school teacher, on charges of expressing support for Hamas.
Ziyad's father was quoted as saying that the official reason for the arrest was that his son had "offended the Palestinian flag" by telling his students that he prefers the Hamas flag.
On the same day that Abbas's ministry condemned the British decision against Hamas, the Palestinian security forces assaulted Hamas supporters in Ramallah for carrying Hamas flags in public.
According to Palestinian media reports, the Palestinian security forces fired tear gas canisters at the Hamas supporters and confiscated the Hamas flags they were carrying.
In a similar incident this month, the Palestinian security forces attacked Hamas supporters in the town of Bala'a in the northern West Bank, arrested several people, and confiscated Hamas flags.
Abbas is well aware that were it not for Israel's presence in the West Bank, Hamas would have booted him from power long ago. As Abbas was denouncing the British move, Israel announced that it has arrested dozens of Hamas terrorists in the West Bank who were suspected of planning terror attacks against Israelis.
It is such Israeli security measures that keep Abbas and the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank safe and protected against Hamas terrorism.
Yet, instead of thanking Israel for cracking down on Hamas, Abbas continues to denounce Israel in horrific terms. Instead of expressing gratitude to the British government for outlawing Hamas, Abbas chooses to condemn the British decision and defend Hamas.
It is time for Abbas and other Palestinian leaders for once to tell the truth about which side they are on: the side of those who are combating terrorism and whom they treat as their enemies, or the side of those who wish to topple them to form yet another fundamentalist dictatorship and wipe Israel off the map.
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem.