by Khaled Abu Toameh
The Palestinian Authority leadership does not see that the real threat to the two-state solution is Hamas and the unwillingness of many Palestinians to accept Israel's right to exist.When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas returned from New York to Ramallah and told the Palestinians that he obtained UN recognition of a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 lines -- namely, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem -- fewer than 5,000 Palestinians, many of them civil servants who receive their salaries from the Palestinian Authority government, turned out to greet him in Ramallah.
When Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal came last week to the Gaza Strip and told Palestinians that armed struggle and jihad were the only way to liberate all Palestine, "from the river to the sea," and that there was no room for the Zionists in Palestine because the country belonged only to Muslim and Arabs, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians showed up to welcome Mashaal and voice support for his plan to eliminate Israel and replace it with an Islamic state.
Even many Palestinians in the West Bank expressed support for Mashaal, especially when he said that the Palestinians would never "give up one inch of Palestine."
The Palestinian Authority's official TV station in the West Bank broadcast Mashaal's speech live, as well as Hamas celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Islamist movement.
If anything, the widespread support for Hamas's position is a sign of how much the Palestinians have been radicalized over the past few decades.
A Palestinian leader who talks about a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem is less popular than one who talks about "liberating Haifa, Jaffa, Beersheba and Safed."
When Abbas says that a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 lines would lead to a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East, he is ignoring the fact that a large number of Palestinians think otherwise.
The pro-Hamas rallies in the Gaza Strip, where Palestinians chanted slogans in favor of liberating Palestine "from the river to the sea" and called for more rocket attacks against Israel reflect the authentic voice of the Palestinian "street."
This is not a voice that supports Hamas so much as one that denies Israel a right to exist. The rallies were not about backing Hamas so much as they were intended to express the true and sincere feelings of many Arabs and Muslims who believe that Israel is an alien body that needs to be uprooted or exterminated.
Were Mashaal given the chance to deliver a speech in the West Bank advocating jihad and armed struggle against Israel he would have attracted tens of thousands of people.
The Palestinian Authority is well aware of the growing anti-Israel sentiments among its constituents; that is why its leaders and spokesmen did not dare utter a word against the Hamas leader when he talked about eliminating Israel.
On the contrary, instead of voicing reservations about Mashaal's messages of hate and violence, Palestinian officials in the West Bank hailed his speech as "positive."
Why did they find the speech positive? Simply because Mashaal talked about the need for unity between Hamas and Abbas's Fatah faction.
How can the Palestinian Authority, which claims it remains committed to the two-state solution, join forces with another group that is openly calling on Muslims and Arabs to wage jihad in order to destroy Israel?
As the case has always been with the Palestinian Authority, it is easier to blame Israel and the US for destroying the two-state solution rather than Hamas and other terror organizations.
This view was expressed this week by Saeb Erekat, the chief PLO negotiator, who once again held Israel and the US solely responsible for the current stalemate in the Middle East peace process.
"As regional and global shifts take place, the window of opportunity is not only closing on the two-state solution, but on the U.S.'s central involvement in the peace process," Erekat wrote. "Punishing the Palestinians or anyone expressing support for the Palestinians, for taking peaceful diplomatic steps, is counterproductive and dangerous. The two-state solution is the best result for all concerned. The current Israeli government does not see that. It is hoped that their long-term ally, the U.S., will."
Erekat and the rest of the Palestinian Authority leadership do not see Hamas's ambition of destroying Israel is an obstacle to peace -- nor do they see that the real threat to the two-state solution is Hamas and the unwillingness of many Palestinians to accept Israel's right to exist.
Abbas, Erekat and other relatively moderate Palestinian leaders represent a dwindling minority of Palestinians that still believes in the two-state solution and peace with Israel. As demonstrated by last week's Hamas celebrations, an increased number of Palestinians have still not come to terms with Israel's right to exist.
Khaled Abu Toameh
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