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Look Out! Great Damage Is Coming!

December 29, 2005 By:
Barry Rubin
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Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinian politics is just starting to get interesting. Yet much of the world seems to be oblivious - at least in terms of actual policy - to the monumental changes taking place.

Every day I read articles that explain in lofty terms how Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the moderates must be helped; how he needs to be encouraged to fight terrorism; and how what he really needs is a good socioeconomic policy.

I say: Wake up and smell the olive oil! He cannot even prevent allies from being gunned down or kidnapped within five minutes of his house by dozens of armed raiders! For all practical purposes, it's already all over for Abbas.

What is actually impressive is how alone he is. Every day, more allies desert him. He no longer even has the support of Muhammad Dahlan, who commanded a goodly number of armed men. Now, the influential Tayib Abdul Rahim, once secretary to Yasser Arafat, has quit and denounced Abbas in a front-page Palestinian newspaper article.

Granted, Abbas is still voted the most trusted politician in Palestinian polls, but this isn't much of a distinction given the fact that only about one-in-five Palestinians says so. In some ways - though he didn't do much - he's been judged as too moderate, at least by the activists. He is also at a disadvantage because he is a 1948 refugee from Tzfat, now in Israel, and thus has no strong family in the West Bank or Gaza to give him a solid base.

Along with his remaining allies, the hard-line PLO veterans, the Abu Mazen slate might be lucky to get 20 percent in the Jan. 25 scheduled elections.

But will the elections even be held? No one knows. If the current Palestinian Authority leadership can find some way to postpone them it will eagerly do so. Yet such a pretext seems hard to find, and what will the Fatah opposition and Hamas do if they are robbed of their victory by such a maneuver? In the twisted logic of Palestinian politics they will try, of course, to kill Israelis.

And what about Hamas? The more you examine the results of local elections, the more amazing the Hamas landslide appears. It will not do so well in parliamentary voting, but 30 percent to 35 percent of the vote seems attainable. Even this is an understatement because with Fatah split such an outcome could put an even larger percentage of Hamas candidates into parliament.

Such a result could lead to a cut-off of all foreign aid. But even if the European donors avoid such a decision (they could cite, for example, the fact that Fatah still has a majority or forms the government), surely the incoming money will slow to a trickle.

After the election, Hamas, rather than be moderated, will engage in an orgy of triumph, stepping up terrorist attacks and flaunting its electoral success. At a minimum it will seek equal partnership with Fatah, though its long-term goal is what Hamas leaders are starting to call "PLO-3."

First, in the mid-1960s, came the PLO as an Egyptian instrument, then in the late 1960s began the nationalist era led by Arafat, and now they hope for a third era of an Islamist-dominated movement.

Marwan Barghouti may be in jail (for terrorist murders of Israelis), but from his cell he is running the Future Party. He is already making deals with Hamas leaders for what amounts to an alliance, though, on a purely political level, he would probably advocate Fatah's unity. After all, taking over Fatah is his immediate objective.

In a few years, perhaps months, there will be a campaign to paint Barghouti as a moderate - a man of peace who is ready to make a deal with Israel. It should be noted that Barghouti's strategy is to drive Israel militarily back to the 1967 armistice lines through terrorism, and then negotiate a deal on his terms. That's not very promising, especially given his developing close partnership with Hamas.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian movement is crumbling, the basis for any real international support is eroding, and the new regime will probably make their daily lives worse. Hamas and Barghouti, supposedly the people's saviors from a corrupt, inept Abbas, are going to damage the movement even further.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center.

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