War Highlights Abbas' Mutual Alienation With Gaza

The Palestinians are torn between two selfish, rival ruling parties that take one step forward for national unity, then three steps backward.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

In the middle of this week, the Palestinian Ma'an News Agency published an open letter from a Gaza resident to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in which he criticized him for never having taken the time to visit Gaza.

"It is not acceptable anymore - no matter what those surrounding you make it look like to you - that you do not come. I do not invite you to show solidarity with Gaza, but to be in Gaza and with Gaza," wrote Issam Younis, director of the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza on Tuesday. "This is a historic moment that must be taken up. We've waited for you in Gaza for six days. We're still waiting - your people who are being attacked and slaughtered in Gaza."

Abbas did hurry back to Ramallah from a trip overseas as soon as the fighting began, but he waited two days before giving a speech, a weak one, about the situation in Gaza. And when he assembled the Palestinian leadership, the organization heads who make up the PLO, he didn't even invite the Hamas representative in the West Bank.

Nabil Sha'ath did enter Gaza as Abbas' representative on the second day of the operation, at the height of the aerial attacks, but the Palestinians no longer make do with just representatives and hints. It is not clear whether the Hamas government would allow Abbas to enter Gaza except as part of an overall conciliation agreement, but Younis represents the position of many who are not Hamas supporters. One can assume that the telephone call Thursday from Abbas to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh does not satisfy Younis.

"We are waiting in Gaza for you and all the heads of Palestinian political parties. The advocates of [division] can stay back in Ramallah. This scandalous schism must end now and here; the schism that made your people bleed. The Palestinian national platform must be restored and Palestinian striving for freedom must be agreed on by all. It is our engagement with the occupation that we must magnify; politically, legally, and diplomatically. We are waiting for you to come," wrote Younis.

Younis published another public letter at the beginning of November, in which he also criticized Hamas for continuing to think and act like a movement instead of a government. "The main problem of its years of ruling Gaza is that Hamas has been unable, until now, to step out of its role as a movement into its role of a government. The government in Gaza has been run with a movement's mentality, if not by the movement."

In Gaza, they call this "selfish behavior," when the ruling party thinks first about providing services for its supporters. Younis, who first stated he supported Hamas' right to rule after it won the election in Gaza, wrote: "The financial and political sanctions on Gaza are simply unjust and scandalous. Hamas won a free and fair election in 2006. The world was well aware that Hamas would run in the elections. But my recognition of Hamas' legitimacy does not mean that I agree with the way in which Hamas has been ruling Gaza. Hamas' legitimacy to exist, as a movement, must be complemented by its legitimacy to rule, by acting as justly as possible under the circumstances.

"Hamas, under these conditions, insisted on assuming the role of a victim," Younis continued. "It tried to make use of the fact that the movement and its members were excluded from participating in government and public service during the years of Palestinian Authority rule. When faced with failure, its discourse focused on listing its many enemies. Therefore, success has been that of Hamas; failure is because of others."

The Palestinians are torn between two selfish, rival ruling parties that take one step forward for national unity, then three steps backward - and in between expose their alienation from the needs of their people. During the days of war in the south and Gaza, it seemed they had taken a number of steps forward in preparation for national unity. The geographical and political split is not as difficult for the residents of the West Bank as it is for Gaza residents. To put it bluntly, the residents of the West Bank usually don't care about those in Gaza, and have even shown hostility to them in various cases.

But the harsh scenes of the past 10 days have brought them together. Unlike during Operation Cast Lead four years ago, this time the security services of the Palestinian Authority did not dare prevent people from marching toward Israel Defense Forces checkpoints in the West Bank and demonstrate against the attacks on Gaza.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Feb. 9, 2012. Credit: AP

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