The Palestinians are expecting a “hot winter” as Abbas and Hamas appear to be headed toward a major standoff in January. This confrontation will only deepen divisions among the Palestinians and solidify the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. We are now dealing with two separate Palestinian entities and we don’t have one clear address on the Palestinian side. In fact, because of this split, there is no real partner for peace on the Palestinian side - Hamas is not a partner because of their ideology and Fatah is not a partner because they are weak, corrupt and unable to deliver: they have been kicked out of the Gaza strip and have no control over the 1.5 million people living there.
First, Hamas says it will act in line with the Palestinian Basic Law, which calls for the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council [parliament] to serve as interim president for 60 days until new elections are held in the Palestinian territories. In this case, the speaker of the PLC happens to be Abdel Aziz Dweik, a senior Hamas official who is being held in Israeli jail.
If Dweik is not chosen, his deputy, Ahmed Bahr, who is also a top Hamas man living in the Gaza Strip, may find himself serving as acting president of the Palestinian Authority for two months.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s term in office expires on January 9, 2009, exactly four years after he was elected to succeed Yasser Arafat. But Abbas has made it clear that he intends to stay in power beyond that date, drawing sharp criticism from Hamas and other Palestinians.
Abbas argues that the presidential election for the Palestinian Authority should be held together with the parliamentary vote, which is due in January 2010. As such, he says, he is entitled to unilaterally extend his term by another year.
Abbas’s plan has been condemned by his enemies as “unconstitutional.” Hamas, which controls the entire Gaza Strip and the Palestinian parliament, says it won’t recognize Abbas’s legitimacy after January 9, 2009. Because he was elected in a free election in 2005, Hamas has never challenged Abbas’s right to lead the Palestinians.
What does all this mean for US efforts to “boost” the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians? If Abbas does remain in power, he will be depicted by his opponents as “another Arab dictator.” Abbas will lose much of credibility and legitimacy among his own people. He will no longer be able to present himself as an elected leader.
The new US Administration will have to deal with a weaker Abbas - one who would never be able to sell any agreement with Israel to the majority of the Palestinians. The US and the rest of the international community have for now to live with the fact that under the current circumstances, there is no real and strong partner for the peace process on the Palestinian side. The Palestinians need to get their act together, to stop behaving like failed leaders. Abbas has let his people down and failed to fulfill his promises. When he was elected in 2005, Abbas promised the Palestinians an end to anarchy and corruption and to start working toward real institutions. He also promised to bring them democracy and a better economy, and to punish all the corrupt people who were responsible for the thefts and embezzlement. He promised to dismantle the militias and create a strong judiciary system but he has hardly done anything. They need to show responsibility and live up to their commitments to the peace process. They need to stop the state of anarchy and lawlessness, and start building proper institutions and infrastructure, instead of smuggling weapons and drugs.
Unless the Palestinians end the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas, there is no hope for making any progress toward solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.