Israeli-Gaza Conflict Squeezes Palestinian Leader On All Sides

Jul 14, 2014
Originally published on July 15, 2014 4:28 am

While the Israel-Gaza conflict pits Israelis against Palestinians, it has also increased stress within the Palestinian leadership.

The Gaza Strip is run by Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist group and favors a strategy of resistance. The West Bank is run by Fatah, which is more moderate and favors an olive-branch approach.

Last month, Hamas and Fatah created a coalition government, angering Israel and helping to end Mideast peace talks.

Mahmoud Abbas, who leads that government, is in an almost untenable position. And at this point, almost no one is happy with him.

On the olive-branch side is Emad Dayyah, a consultant from Gaza who travels to the West Bank every week. He has pretty much given up on Abbas.

"I think he spent a lot of efforts to give peace a chance, but it seems he's not being supported by the international community and by Israelis, and even by Hamas people," Dayyah says. "He is handcuffed, absolutely. He cannot do anything."

Musah Falleh, who's in the resistance camp, spent seven years in an Israeli prison for plotting to kill a settler. He was released in a prisoner exchange a few years ago.

Now Falleh is treated as a hero in the Am'Ari refugee camp where he lives.

"First and foremost, Mahmoud Abbas has to stop security coordination with Israel," he says. "Second, he must stop all communication with Israel. Third, and most important, blood is their language, so our language should be blood as well."

Blood is not the language of Abbas. He has accused Israel of committing "genocide" against Palestinians, and he has criticized Hamas for firing rockets on Israel.

Jewish groups condemned him for the first comment. Hamas leaders condemned him for the second one.

"Whatever Mr. Abbas does," says Nabil Shaath, one of Abbas' senior advisers, "he will look helpless to his people. He doesn't have tanks. He doesn't have airplanes. He doesn't have rockets, and he does not believe in violence."

Shaath suspects that Israel wants to see Abbas weakened. Israel's government was unhappy when the Palestinian unity deal went through, and driving a wedge between the groups could break the coalition.

"This is a declared Israeli objective," he says. "Of course, in a situation like this, it hampers unity and makes it very difficult."

It's hard to see how the Palestinian leader emerges from the conflict, says Radi Jara'we, a professor at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem.

"I think he tried to do something, but he did not succeed," Jara'we says.

Supporters of Abbas would say he is not finished trying.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And one voice that's barely been raised in the fight between Israel and Gaza is Mahmoud Abbas. He is the president of the Palestinian Authority. The West Bank is run by Abbas' more moderate group, Fatah. Gaza is run by the more radical Hamas.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, last night Abbas said he welcomes the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire. But as you've just heard, it's not clear what Hamas will do, even though the two groups formed a unity government last month.

MONTAGNE: That unity government contributed to Israel cutting off peace talks with the Palestinians. And the events of the last few weeks have left Mahmoud Abbas in an almost untenable position. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: At a store in downtown Ramallah in the West Bank, music blares out of a shabby speakers.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: This is a song of defiance. The lyrics say in one hand, we hold the olive branch - in the other, our resistance. Those two hands represent two different schools of thought among Palestinians. Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, runs a fragile government that includes both camps. At this point, almost no one is happy with him. First, we'll hear from the olive branch crowd. Emad Dayyah is a consultant from Gaza who travels to the West Bank every week. He has pretty much given up on Abbas.

EMAD DAYYAH: I think he spent a lot of efforts to give peace a chance, but it seems he's not been supported by international community and by Israelis and even by Hamas people.

SHAPIRO: That's pretty much everyone.

DAYYAH: He is handcuffed, absolutely. He cannot do anything.

SHAPIRO: So that's that's the satisfied voice of the olive branch camp - now to the resistance camp.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Musah.

SHAPIRO: Musah Falleh spent seven years in an Israeli prison for plotting to kill an Israeli settler. He was released in a prisoner exchange a few years ago. Now Falleh is treated as a hero in the Amari refugee camp, where he lives. We meet him in the apartment with his mother.

MUSAH FALLEH: (Through translator) First and for most, Mahmoud Abbas has to stop security coordination with Israel. Second, he must stop all communication with Israel. Third, and most important, blood is their language so our language should be blood, as well.

SHAPIRO: Blood is not the language of Mahmoud Abbas. He has accused Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians and he has criticized Hamas for firing rockets on Israel. Jewish groups condemned him for the first comment. Hamas leaders condemned of for the second one.

SHA'TH: Whatever Mr. Abbas does, he will look helpless to his people. He doesn't have tanks. He doesn't have airplanes. He doesn't have rockets. And he does not believe in violence.

SHAPIRO: This is one of Abbas' senior advisers, Nabil Sha’th. He suspects that Israel is trying to weaken the unity government they've opposed from the beginning.

SHA'TH: This is a declared Israeli objective and, of course, in a situation like this, it hampers unity and makes it very difficult.

SHAPIRO: Radi Jara'we is a professor at Al-Quds University. He says it's hard to see how the Palestinian leader emerges from this.

JARA'WE: I think he tried - he tried to do something but he did not succeed.

SHAPIRO: Supporters of Abbas would say, he is not done trying. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Jerusalem.

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.