On June 23, 73 House members sent a letter to the Biden administration urging it to “withdraw [from] the previous administration’s ‘peace plan.'” They asserted that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be resolved through a “negotiated two-state solution.” Hamas stated that it will accept new elections and a restored Palestinian unity government. (AP Photo/Adel Hana) Adel Hana

Palestinian political chaos prevents the potential for peace

Sean Durns July 05, 11:45 AM July 05, 11:45 AM

On June 23, 73 House members sent a letter to the Biden administration urging it to “withdraw [from] the previous administration’s ‘peace plan.'” They asserted that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be resolved through a “negotiated two-state solution.”

Unfortunately, this interest doesn’t jibe with reality. The Palestinian political structure is in chaos. And it might soon get even worse.

Fatah, the political movement that dominates the Palestinian Authority, rules those parts of the West Bank, known by some Israelis as Judea and Samaria, where the majority of Palestinians live. Fatah’s rival, the terrorist organization Hamas, has controlled the Gaza Strip since a 2007 civil war between the two factions. Neither Hamas nor Fatah has held elections since then. But Hamas also wants the West Bank for itself. This would uproot American and Israeli policies. It is hard, after all, to see Israel negotiating with a terrorist group that testifies to an ordained blood lust for Jews.

The Palestinian Authority isn’t much better. It was established in 1994 as a result of the Oslo Accords. In return for renouncing terrorism and pledging to resolve outstanding issues via bilateral negotiations, it received the opportunity for limited self-rule. Despite subsequently rejecting three “two-state solution” offers and continuing to pay salaries to terrorists who attack Israelis, the Palestinian Authority still receives Western and Israeli support — billions of dollars in aid and even security training.

Yet it remains hopelessly corrupt. This April, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in the 16th year of what was supposed to be a four-year term, “postponed” elections he had set for this summer. Polls indicated that Abbas was likely to lose, either to Fatah rival Marwan Barghouti or to Hamas.

In the last six months, Abbas and Fatah’s ruling clique have accelerated a campaign of repression, imprisoning and torturing dissidents. Death threats leveled at Fadi Elsalameen, a Palestinian American commentator and a United States citizen, attracted little Western attention. But the death of Nizar Banat, a Palestinian critic of Fatah who reportedly was beaten to death by Palistinian Authority security forces, has prompted blowback — including protests in the West Bank.

Reporter Khaled Abu Toameh has documented attacks against Palestinian journalists covering the protests. Fatah operatives even have assaulted protesters outside of the Palestinian Authority Embassy in Lebanon. Much of the West Bank is in a state of upheaval, with journalists summoned by the intelligence services and the Palestinian Authority promising to create a commission of inquiry into Banat’s death.

Hamas isn’t about to let this opportunity go to waste.

It has encouraged anti-Abbas activity. Indeed, Hamas was doing so weeks before Banat’s murder, with its flags ominously appearing at sermons when Palestinian Authority-appointed clerics spoke. As highlighted by the organization I work for, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis, or CAMERA, the recent Israel-Hamas war was sparked, in part, by Hamas’s desire to exploit West Bank Palestinians who are dissatisfied with Abbas’s elections cancellation.

What happens next?

Well, Fatah’s old guard is deeply unpopular. A June poll of Palestinians by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed that “support for Hamas, and willingness to vote for it, increased dramatically while support for Fatah” dropped significantly.

Still, Hamas is probably not capable of displacing Fatah without a fight. But in 2007 in Gaza, Hamas handily beat Fatah in armed conflict. Today, thanks to its chief benefactor, Iran, Hamas is well armed. It also retains high morale, religious fervor, and a clear, marketable vision — the liquidation of Israel. Rising support for Hamas in the West Bank could also spur a desperate Abbas to launch an intifada, or armed uprising, against Israel. Abbas’s predecessor, Yasser Arafat, supported Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israel in the 1990s and early 2000s — partly as an attempt to ward off rivals.

In the eyes of a growing number of Palestinians, Hamas is looking to be a good bet. Policymakers and the press had better take note.

Sean Durns is a senior research analyst for the Washington, D.C., office of CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.

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