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Mahmoud Abbas under fire

Some Palestinians want support for rocket attacks on Israel

by Abdullah H. Erakat, The Media Line

2 weeks ago

<em>Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on June 19. Photo by Mohamad Torokman/Reuters</em>

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on June 19. Photo by Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Amid rumors that a cease-fire between Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement is close after ten days of Hamas rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is coming under criticism in both the West Bank and Gaza for not speaking out more strongly against Israel during the fighting.

“Some Palestinians are criticizing him for not coming out and welcoming the rockets,” Sami Musallam, the director of Area Studies at Al Quds University told The Media Line. “People expect him to applaud and say “hooray!” But if he says that, he will lose (international legitimacy), we will lose and the Palestinian cause will lose.”

In the fighting so far between Israel and Hamas, at least 225 Palestinians have been killed and more than 1400 wounded.

Hamas government spokeswoman Isra Al Modallal told The Media Line that 60 percent of the infrastructure in Gaza has been destroyed. She said that there is enough food in Gaza, but the hospitals are short of medicine.

She said that in the talks in Egypt over the past few days, Abbas has not consulted with Hamas or other “resistance organizations.”

“Every single time Abbas goes for talks, he does not consult with the resistance groups here in Gaza,” Al Modallal said. “Resistance is a very important part of any agreement. When you mention a cease-fire without mentioning the resistance groups, you have nothing.”

She said the most important part of any cease-fire must include the opening of the Rafah crossing point between Gaza and Egypt. She defended the firing of hundreds of rockets from Gaza into Israel.

“What’s important for Hamas right now is the conditions of the Palestinian people.  The borders must be open and equipment and other needs allowed to enter Gaza,” she said. "There is no other way than resistance. Israel is killing us with a slow death and collective punishment. We cannot stand to be silent in front of our children."

Many Palestinians in Gaza agreed that they would like to see Abbas speak out more strongly on their behalf.

“Mahmoud Abbas is the leader of the Palestinian people. We believe that the President has exerted maximum efforts to get a cease-fire,” Khan Yunis resident Mohammad Faiad told The Media Line. “At the same time, the Gaza street knows very well that the President did not do enough to tell the world about the plight of the people here.”

Rania El Hilou, from Gaza city, says she has felt isolated the past ten days during what she called “the nonstop bombing.” She says she appreciates Abbas’s efforts to reach a cease-fire but said he should have done more to solve Gaza’s humanitarian crisis.

“We feel separated as if we are going through this by ourselves,” she told The Media Line.

Italian Journalist Michele Monni, who is covering the story from Gaza City, says the nicest thing he has heard people call the Palestinian Authority president is a traitor. He says Gazans feel cut off from the West Bank.

“From here the fact that the Palestinian Authority hasn't been vocal about the killing of civilians really pisses off the people,” Monni told The Media Line.

While some in the Gaza Strip see Abbas as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, Monni says they think that his stand in the current confrontation is “more focused on appealing to the international community than blasting the crimes of Israel.”

Since 2007, when Hamas took over Gaza, there has been bitter rivalry between the two main Palestinian factions. A unity government was declared in June, but it has not taken any concrete action. Abbas himself has not visited Gaza since 2007, and earlier this week, when his health minister tried to enter Rafah to distribute aid, he was met with angry Gazans throwing stones and shoes and forced to retreat.

Abbas remains popular on the West Bank but many say he has been out of touch during the current crisis.

Political analyst George Giacaman at Bir Zeit University says the Palestinian Authority was in trouble long before the current Israeli air strikes on Gaza began. After Palestinians kidnapped three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank last month, Abbas’s security forces helped Israeli troops in the search. Hundreds of Palestinians, many of them loyal to Hamas, were arrested. Abbas ignored calls to suspend security cooperation with Israel, but he has been left on the defensive.

“Abbas doesn’t have anything to say because he can’t protect his own people. He is in a weak position,” Giacaman told The Media Line said.

He said Abbas could gain support by appealing to the United Nations, and the new agencies that the Palestinian Authority joined in April. 

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