The Palestinian Authority, which was caught by surprise by the prisoner exchange agreement between Israel and Hamas, is now talking about a "conspiracy" aimed at undermining President Mahmoud Abbas.

The alleged conspiracy, the Palestinian Authority claims, was concocted by Israel and Hamas to punish Abbas for asking the UN to recognize a Palestinian state.

Just last month the Palestinian Authority was celebrating its "triumphant" move to seek membership of a Palestinian state in the UN. Abbas returned to a hero's welcome in Ramallah, where Palestinian Authority civil servants and school children were sent to greet him for "standing up against the US and Israel" at the UN.

Not surprisingly, public opinion polls published by groups that are affiliated with the Palestinian claimed that Abbas's popularity was on the rise as a result of the statehood bid.

But the celebrations in Ramallah were short-lived.The prisoner agreement has stolen the show from Abbas and his team in Ramallah. Overnight, Abbas's statehood bid looked like a silly joke compared to Hamas's "achievement."

This, in addition to the fact that a growing number of Palestinians are beginning to realize that the statehood bid was more about glorifying their leaders than achieving a state.

The Palestinian Authority has good reason to be worried about the prisoner swap. If anything, the agreement has rallied many Palestinians behind Hamas. Even some of Abbas's top aides have been forced to admit in public that the deal was a "huge achievement" for Hamas.

The agreement sends a message that the only way to get Israel to release prisoners is by kidnapping Israeli civilians or soldiers and not through negotiations, as advocated by Abbas.

Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah have expressed deep concern over the prisoner swap, saying it would bolster Hamas's standing among Palestinians and significantly weaken Abbas and his Fatah faction.

But instead of sitting quiet and waiting until the storm passes away, the Palestinian Authority leaders have been trying to convince the Palestinian public that Israel and Hamas were "colluding" to undermine Abbas's regime.

The first statement came from Riad Malki, the foreign minister in the Palestinian Authority government, who announced that the timing of the deal, only a few weeks after Abbas submitted the controversial statehood application to the UN, was "suspicious."

Since then, several other Abbas loyalists have claimed that Israel and Hamas struck the deal now in a clear attempt to foil Abbas's statehood plan.

This was not the first time that the Palestinian Authority has talked about an Israeli-Hamas plot. Yasser Arafat used to talk about "secret meetings" between representatives of the two parties to coordinate terror attacks against the Jewish state during the second intifada, while some of his former aides continue to stick to the claim that it was Israel that founded Hamas more than two decades with the goal of undermining the PLO.

In addition, Arafat and his spokesmen have repeatedly tried to convince the Palestinian public that some of the anti-Israel terror attacks, including the assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi at the hands of Palestinians 10 years ago, was an "inside job."

The Palestinian Authority, which has yet to come to terms with its defeat to Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary election and its subsequent expulsion from the Gaza Strip, is trying to sell its conspiracy theories with the hope of salvaging what is left of its credibility.

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