Ali Mohmoud Associated Press Young Palestinians ran past the building destroyed by an Israeli airstrike on the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to him last week on the phone. US President Joe Biden was scheduled to meet with him on Wednesday in Amman, Jordan, as part of his visit to the Middle East, but the meeting was canceled at the last minute, after the initially controversial destruction of 'a hospital in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday.
Since the start of the new war between Hamas and Israel, the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, seems to be regaining some momentum on the international scene. In the circumstances, he is the bearer of the moderate voice of the Palestinians for the West, after the massacre of Jews perpetrated by the terrorist organization Hamas on October 7, and the response that Tel Aviv is imposing now on the Gaza Strip.
However, this role of privileged interlocutor remains oversized for the leader of Fatah, whose influence, like that of his governmental body, the Palestinian Authority, has only been collapsing for years. And the new conflagration in relations between Jews and Palestinians in this tense region of the globe is far from ensuring a return to favor with the Palestinians, a return on which the international community would nevertheless like to be able to count.
“Mahmoud Abbas no longer has much credibility with his people,” says conflict resolution specialist and researcher at the Canadian Institute of Global Affairs Hrach Gregorian. In fact, if the Palestinian Authority were to be imposed on the Palestinians [in ongoing diplomatic discussions], it would be seen as nothing more than a puppet government.”
Photo: Ahmad Gharabli Agence France-Presse A woman reflects in Tel Aviv, as people light candles on Wednesday in memory of the victims of the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7.
This undoubtedly explains this, but also the great discretion of Yasser Arafat's successor since Hamas's coup against Israel and the new crisis that the terrorist group has caused. We had to wait five days after the massacre and its response to hear Mahmoud Abbas denounce “the murder of civilians on both sides” and demand “an immediate end to the maximum aggression against the Palestinian people”. Without much effect to date. For more than a week, his rare appearances on the stage and behind the scenes of world diplomacy have also been of little note.
1,400 Israelis have lost their lives since the start of this new conflict. The figure would reach nearly 3,500, including nearly 1,000 children and more than 1,000 women on the Palestinian side, according to the latest count released by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Loss of legitimacy
“The Palestinian Authority has lost its legitimacy for a long time,” summarizes sociologist Atalia Omer, a specialist in conflicts in the Middle East and professor of peace studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, in an interview. Product of the Oslo Accords [on the division and administration of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank by the Palestinians], this government entity has ultimately played the role of subcontractor of the Israeli occupation for 30 years by ensuring the coordination of security in these territories and ultimately by participating in the mechanism to further consolidate this occupation” which has only become more pronounced under the current extremist Israeli government.
“And this lack “legitimacy and leadership has been further revealed by the Hamas attack,” she continued.
Driven from the Gaza Strip by the Hamas terrorist organization in 2007, the Palestinian Authority now has only limited control over 40% of the West Bank and its 2.8 million inhabitants. The decline of Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah can even be measured in a poll by the Palestinian Center for Political Research last June which established the votes that the political group would collect in the event of legislative elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip at 31%. Against 34% for Hamas.
“Abbas's government is widely hated by Palestinians who have taken to the streets several times for several months to show their disapproval,” summarizes Middle East historian James Gelvin, contacted by Le Devoirat the University of California at Los Angeles where he teaches. The Palestinian Authority is a sclerotic, corrupt entity and above all widely perceived as sleeping in the bed of the Israelis”, and this, within the framework of a relationship and a political intimacy far from healthy: by taking power in Last January, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the most right-wing in the country's history, announced its intention to adopt sanctions against the Palestinian Authority to make it “pay the price” for its recent actions before the UN.
An undemocratic leader
In search of a new lease of life, Mahmoud Abbas wishes to raise the issue of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories, in the hope of regaining a legitimacy contested since 2009 and the end of a first mandate which never came to fruition. on new elections. Worse, the agreement that the 87-year-old politician reached with difficulty with Hamas for the holding of a legislative and presidential election in May and July 2021 was never completed, these two votes having been returned by his government on dates still undetermined to this day.
“Even weakened, it still resists the changes brought by younger leaders with different approaches to Palestinian self-determination and resistance,” continues Atalia Omer, which is what the Palestinians may now need to try to escape from the current crisis.
In this context, “it is unlikely that Mahmoud Abbas will emerge stronger from the current crisis, especially if the Israelis deliver a devastating blow to Gaza,” says James Gelvin. And if he were to be put in power in Gaza by Israel, that would only reinforce his image as a stooge.”
An image which continues to play into the hands of the extremist government of Benjamin Netanyahu who, in this weakening of the Palestinian Authority, certainly finds fertile ground to “ensure security in the West Bank in its place”, while “pretending that there is no longer a serious interlocutor on the Palestinian side to talk about the peace process” , continues the historian.
“Even if the time has not yet come for assessments, says James Gelvin, one thing is clear in the face of the current crisis: the generation of Abbas has failed and it should step aside to make room for another.”