Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Will the Palestinian Authority and Hamas Ever Learn?

by Khaled Abu Toameh

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas seem to be nervous about the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Both rival parties, which have been fighting each other for over three years, are now scrambling to avoid possible revolts by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian Authority has finally agreed to hold presidential, local and parliamentary elections.

In addition, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has decided to reshuffle the cabinet of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The decision to hold new elections and reshuffle the cabinet is seen as a pre-emptive measure that is designed to appease Palestinians.

Abbas's decision to hold new elections and reshuffle the cabinet has been rejected by Hamas as a "ploy."

Abbas and Fayyad are said to be worried by the anti-government intifadas that have brought down regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, and are threatening to spread to other parts of the Arab world.

Like the ousted Tunisian and Egyptian dictators, Abbas and Fayyad are seen by many Palestinians and Arabs as "puppets" in the hands of the Americans. This perception is why the two Western-backed Palestinian leaders are now under immense pressure.

The pressure on Abbas and Fayyad reached its peak with the recent publication of the "Palestine Papers" by the Al-Jazeera TV network. The leaked documents, which claim that the Palestinian leaders had offered far-reaching concessions to Israel during the peace talks, have seriously damaged their credibility among Palestinians and Arabs.

Abbas and Fayyad now have to prove to their people that they are not "defeatists" and "surrenderists," as Al-Jazeera claims. Moreover, they need to prove to their people that they are serious about reforms.

Hamas also appears to be unnerved. In recent days, the Hamas government has intensified its efforts to prevent widespread demonstrations in the Gaza Strip. The move came following calls on Facebook by many young Palestinians to organize a revolt against the Hamas regime.

The Islamist movement also announced its strong opposition to new elections; apparently it fears that the vote would not be fair and free in light of the Palestinian Authority's crackdown on Hamas's supporters in the West Bank.

The measures taken by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas will only deepen divisions between the two sides -- a split that is likely to continue for quite a while. For now, the Palestinians will have to live with two entities that are separated politically and geographically.

It is hard to see how the Palestinian Authority would be able to hold any election without the consent of the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip.

All the Palestinian Authority and Hamas leaders care about is clinging onto power for as long as possible.

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Khaled Abu Toameh

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