A successful statehood bid could allow unpopular Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas enough credit to ward off Hamas’ increasing popularity among Palestinians and empower him enough to make concessions in peace negotiations.
Operation Pillar of Defense strengthened Hamas. The rockets made daily life impossible for many in the south of Israel and to justify their retaliation, Israel made a big show out of the fact that Hamas had, in fact, caused much suffering.
In contrast, Abbas’s Western-backed strategy has made little progress in creating a Palestinian state or even in slowing the flow of settlers into the West Bank. While Israeli leaders railed against Hamas’s most recent round of violence against Israel, several months ago Danny Dayan, head of the Israeli settlers, went so far as to write in The New York Times that the status quo in the West Bank was working fine:
If the international community relinquished its vain attempts to attain the unattainable two-state solution, and replaced them with intense efforts to improve and maintain the current reality on the ground, it would be even better.
Abbas has maintained calm in the West Bank but if he is unable to produce a Palestinian victory of some kind, it is likely that Hamas and their strategy of violent resistance will continue to win followers in the West Bank and another intifada could be on the horizon. Abbas can’t be seen as accepting Dayan’s view of the situation. He needs to take action of some kind, and the statehood bid is a reasonable way to do so.
The PA coordinates with Israeli security forces to make arrests and stop terrorist attacks and even censors sermons by imams at Friday prayers to avoid incitement. Yet, while Israel will not slow the building of settlements remove the illegal outposts or crackdown on settler violence in the West Bank, they’ve rewarded Gaza for Hamas’ terror attacks against Israel by easing border restrictions in recent weeks.
As Tzipi Livni put it:
The government enters dialogue with those who support terror and avoids the camp that has prevented terror, that fights for two states.
Abbas is seeking a tangible victory for his non-violent struggle for a Palestinian state. Israel may be wise not to begrudge their moderate peace partner his token victory at the UN.