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Hamas in Waiting: The Political Leadership Creating a Palestinian Pressure Cooker

By Ofer Shelah, Ma'ariv 
28.08.12
via Ma'ariv (translated by Geneva Initiative staff) 
 
When Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s letter to the Quartet was published this week in which he urged them to set a date for elections in the Palestinian Authority and attacked President Abbas, Israelis, certainly not a few, needed a few seconds to remember what he was talking about. Palestinians? “Obstacle to peace” (one of the names Lieberman called Abbas). Remind us why these words sound familiar? 
 
Almost a year has passed since anyone has pretended that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is actually of interest. Since the “political tsunami” that didn’t happen, everyone seems to have accepted reality: there is no process. “Building from Bottom-Up” and “Economic Peace” are code names for washing our hands of any real steps towards a political solution, which few on both sides still believe in. To Israelis, the only measure for the situation is the level of terror attacks, which today are being prevented by the IDF and Shin Bet on the ground, and the coordination with Palestinian forces in the PA under the leadership of Abbas. The Palestinians are measuring the situation in the amount of settlement construction, which seems to be going well, thanks for asking.  “This fight has been decided”, said Chairman of the Yesha council Dani Dayan about a year ago, a man who is normally cautious. It’s doubtful whether anyone will argue with him.
 
In the context of this background, it’s more important to hear what a very senior military officer said in a private conversation recently, “Everyone is dealing with Iran, but when looking in the long-term, the Palestinian question will determine our fate much more than Iran. The situation is not stable and is not going in a good direction. If there is no change, another eruption is only a matter of time.” 
 
The Palestinian Authority is getting tired, IDF sources say. At the low levels, joint work continues. The mutual interest of the IDF and the PA in face of Hamas continues to exist, and there is no sign that Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad will withdraw their principle opposition to armed struggle. But as Palestinian hope dwindles for a political achievement, and the economic situation worsens, the common interests are less, and the pressure is growing stronger from below.
 
With this direction, in the end, either the Palestinian Authority will dissolve or there will be an eruption, which might not begin the same way as it was in September – October 2000, but it may deteriorate to the same place. 
 
The Future of Hamas 
 
Naturally, the global economic crisis around the world and in Israel affects the Palestinian Authority in an especially difficult way because of its size and the few independent sources of income.  Last month Israel moved ahead and transferred funds in order to enable payment of wages for Ramadan; but even so employees only receive half their salaries. 
 
But Israeli generosity is reserved mainly for gestures, even if they are somewhat mitigating the economic pressure, it still has an aftertaste of charity bread. Concerning other things, Israel is much cheaper. Take the IDF for example – they recommended increasing the number of Palestinian workers who receive permits to work in Israel, and the government partially accepted: the number of permits increased by 5,000; less than what was sought by the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories. 
 
The hand is becoming more clenched, even more so when it comes to helping the Palestinian economy grow by itself, which happens to be the real solution in the long-term. Israel continues to pile difficulties in any case relating to the Palestinian use of Area C, dissecting the area under the official control of the Palestinian Authority. 
Here’s one example: The city of Rawabi, under construction north of Ramallah, is connected by a long and windy road, which often does not allow passing of more than one truck. Eighteen months ago we toured there, Raviv Drucker and I, with the developer of this city, businessman Bashar al-Masri. He showed us a short and convenient route that would be much more efficient – but about a kilometre of the road passes through Area C. To date, there is no approved alternative access road to the construction site. 
 
No wonder the Palestinian Authority is weakened and eroded, while Hamas grows stronger – in the hearts, if not a political force that can implement it now. IDF sources say that it is Hamas who is seeking to prevent elections that were supposed to happen a long time ago. But when listening to the voices on the ground, says the senior officer, you hear from Hamas a very confident voice: even on the Palestinian side it’s also argued that “It’s already been decided. The Palestinian future is theirs. 
 
One-State, Two-States, Who Cares
 
To illustrate this trend, one only needs to review the latest survey from the Research Institute of Prof. Khalil Shikaki in Ramallah, which for years has been providing a reliable picture of voices on the Palestinian streets. Last June’s survey shows a clear increase in the power of Hamas in public opinion. The reasons are both external and internal. 
 
The Palestinian Authority is seen as weak, corrupt, and as a suppressor of the freedoms of the individual – 34 percent of respondents said that there is freedom of the press in the Gaza Strip, compared with 21 percent who said that such a freedom exists in the West Bank, the result of an arrest of a journalists and blocking website by the Palestinian Authority. 
 
More people in the West Bank have expressed anger about their living conditions than those who expressed similar anger in Gaza. Government satisfaction of the Ismail Haniya’s government in Gaza is similar (38 percent vs. 36 percent) to that of Salam Fayyad in the West Bank. Perhaps the economic situation is quite different, but it turns out there is only one aspect that makes people support the current power. 
 
On the personal level, though Abbas is much higher ranked than Fayyad on job performance (49 percent in support), the results when the question is concerning a personal preference are closer than ever: In presidential elections head to head Abu Mazen wins over Haniya – 49 vs 44 percent only. 
 
Prisoner Marwan Barghouti, by the way, defeats the Hamas prime minister with 60 percent versus 34 percent and also wins unconditionally in a triple contest. The people, as it shows clearly from Shikaki’s survey, are not with Hamas, but disappointed by the current Palestinian Authority. 
 
And also Marwan Barghouti longer believes in a two-state solution. On this, the Palestinian and Israeli general atmosphere are mirror images: even at the height of the second intifada, a vast majority in Israel and with the Palestinians still believed that the only solution was the Clinton plan, though the belief that it would be realized soon was very low. 
 
Now, among Israelis and Palestinians (as per Maariv survey last year), the despair from the realization of the only possible settlement leads to the cancellation of faith in it. 
 
In Shikaki’s survey’s support and opposition for a two-state solution is divided by exactly equal proportions (49 percent in favour, 49 percent against), while 55 percent think that it is not possible anymore because of the issue of settlements and Israel’s position. In an interesting way, 65 percent oppose a one-state solution: the thoughts of a solution was replaced by despair.