War weakened Abbas, Palestinians warn

By Ben Lynfield, January 22, 2009

President Mahmoud Abbas has been politically wounded by the Gaza war, with Hamas enjoying a surge of popularity in the West Bank, according to Palestinian analysts.

“In political terms, Hamas has become much stronger and its rivals much weaker,” said Ghassan Khatib, a former PA minister.

“The mere fact that Israel is targeting Hamas makes Hamas popular, as does the fact that Hamas fought back and did not surrender, and in Palestinian eyes put on an impressive performance by being disciplined, organised and continuing to fire rockets until the last minute.”

Mr Abbas’s security forces prevented direct confrontations with Israeli troops and arrested anyone raising Hamas banners during the war. But “there is great sympathy with Hamas,” said Hani Masri, a columnist for the generally pro-Abbas al-Ayyam newspaper. “The authority prevents the expression of this sympathy. It does not want it to be visible. The idea of resistance has been strengthened.”

Mr Abbas has few gains to show for his negotiations with Israel and is caught between anger over Gaza and impending Israeli election that polls show are likely to bring Likud under Binyamin Netanyahu to power.

“Unfortunately the president hasn’t been able to do much,” said Fatah official Walid Awad, warning that without the intervention of the Obama administration, Mr Netanyahu’s return to power will mean the end of the

Annapolis track launched in 2007.

Mr Khatib did not predict a healing of the rift between Fatah and Hamas. “Fatah will continue controlling the West Bank and Hamas will continue controlling Gaza and if Hamas manages to gain the opening of Rafah [crossing with Egypt] that will further strengthen it and consolidate the split.”

Last updated: 2:16pm, January 22 2009