More than three months have passed since Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel, during which hundreds of Israelis were murdered, beheaded, raped, mutilated, and kidnapped -- and it is still hard to find any senior Palestinian Authority official who is prepared to condemn the atrocities.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has held a number of meetings over the past few weeks with senior US administration officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, has refrained from publicly denouncing the Iran-backed Hamas terror group for its barbaric attacks on Israelis.
Abbas, it appears, fears a backlash from his people and other Arabs if he speaks out against the murder of Israeli women, children, and the elderly. One word against Hamas and its terrorism, and Abbas' people might well label him a "traitor" and "collaborator" with Israel.
Abbas's fear is not unjustified. Almost three out of four Palestinians believe that the October 7 massacre was "correct," according to a public opinion poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research Survey (PSR). The poll also found that support for Hamas had risen in the Gaza Strip, and more than tripled in the West Bank, after the carnage.
Abbas most likely not only fears his own people, but also Hamas. He has hardly forgotten how Hamas staged a violent coup against him and the Palestinian Authority in 2007, killing dozens of his loyalists in the Gaza Strip. Some of Abbas's men were thrown off rooftops, while others were dragged to the street and lynched by Hamas terrorists. "We haven't forgotten how they [Hamas] amputated legs and threw people off rooftops," said Palestinian lawyer and political analyst Zaid al-Ayoubi.
This is the same Abbas that the Biden administration is hoping to hand the Gaza Strip over to after the removal of Hamas from power. Biden administration officials believe that a "revitalized" Palestinian Authority would be able to control the Gaza Strip in the post-Hamas era. Exactly what these officials mean when they talk about a "revitalized" Palestinian Authority, however, remains murky.
If the Biden administration thinks that the Palestinian Authority leaders will cease inciting Palestinians against Israel, they need to think again. In fact, Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have stepped up their anti-Israel rhetoric since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war. Instead of denouncing Hamas for initiating the war, the Palestinian Authority has been accusing Israel of committing "war crimes," "genocide," and "ethnic cleansing" against the Palestinians. These false accusations are broadcast by the Palestinian Authority and its leaders on a daily basis.
If the Biden administration thinks that Palestinian leaders will stop rewarding terrorists for murdering Jews as part of the "Pay-for-Slay" policy, that too will not happen. How do we know? Just listen to what Abbas has repeatedly asserted over the past few years: "If we had only a single penny left, we would pay it to the families of the martyrs and prisoners."
The Wall Street Journal wrote in a January 15 editorial:
"Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch explains that "the PA [Palestinian Authority] does not differentiate between Hamas terrorists who committed atrocities after invading Israel on Oct. 7, the Hamas terrorists killed by Israel in the ensuing war, and civilian non-combatants killed in the Gaza Strip while being used as human shields by Hamas." All are treated as heroic martyrs to be compensated by the PA, whose activities are subsidized with Western aid."
If the Biden administration wants proof that Palestinian leaders have no intention of reforming the Palestinian Authority and distancing themselves from Hamas and terrorism, they should take note of what happened to Palestinian Social Affairs Minister Ahmed Majdalani.
"Hamas is a terrorist organization in its current form, its current program, and its current political discourse."
Initially, Majdalani's remarks seemed to offer a refreshing and encouraging perspective. Finally, it appeared, a Palestinian leader was willing to denounce Hamas for carrying out the bloodiest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and bringing death and destruction on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
This optimism, however, quickly proved to be short-lived. Shortly after Majdalani made his statement, many Palestinians and Arabs launched a scathing attack on him, accusing him of being a "Zionist dog" and "traitor" and calling for his execution.
A cartoon posted on X (formerly Twitter) featured Majdalani being thrown into a dumpster that carries the writing "Dustbin of History."
Several Palestinian factions issued a joint statement condemning Majdalani for labeling Hamas a terrorist organization:
"These dangerous and unacceptable statements do not represent our people. They are an attempt to coexist with the [Israeli] enemy and cover up for the crimes being waged against our people. Ahmed Majdalani continues his meetings and relations with the Zionists. These statements confirm his suspicious role and constitute a disgrace and a major crime."
The campaign of intimidation and defamation quickly achieved its goal. Majdalani was quick to issue a "Clarification to Palestinian Public Opinion" in which he claimed that his statements had been taken out of context. Not only did the Palestinian minister deny the words that he uttered during the TV interview (still available online), he went on to defend Hamas:
"The Hamas movement is part of the Palestinian national and social fabric. We reject any attempt to marginalize Hamas and call for national partnership with it."
What happened with the Palestinian minister shows, once again, how Palestinian leaders lack the courage needed for moral clarity and how they are intimidated by their own people. These are the same Palestinian leaders for whom the Biden administration wants to establish a Palestinian state on Israel's doorstep.
How can Palestinian leaders, who are terrified of Hamas and even more terrified of their own people, be expected to prevent the terrorists from attacking Israel in the event that these leaders were handed a state?
In addition, why would Israel – or anyone else – trust any Palestinian leader who considers Islamist murderers, rapists and baby-killers as "part of the Palestinian national, social and political fabric"?
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.