Every now and then a new glooming prediction is published on the imminent risk for the survival of the Palestinian Authority and its ramification to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Disclaimer: this article, I am afraid, won’t be an optimistic one.
In March the long-time president of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen) will celebrate his 88th birthday. By all accounts, he is not a young leader. While this does not represent an issue in most places, but remembering who Abbas is and the harsh reality where there is no formal system to elect a successor in Palestine, the narrative changes. The “other leaders” of the Palestinians are part of a bloody feud, making it clear that any Israeli leader will face a challenging times ahead.
We can’t talk about what will happen after, without talking about who Abbas is. After the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, Abbas won the election in 2005 (no other elections were held) subsequently with 62% of the votes. His victory symbolized the end of the bloody era of Intifadas against Israel. From the get going, Abbas had a different approach to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. Unlike his predecessor, Arafat, Abbas believed that violent uprising is not the way to achieve their goal of a Palestinian state and that the best approach is to act within the international diplomatic arena. Despite the fact that 17 years after being elected as president there is still not an official Palestinian state does not mean he failed. In the last 17 years, Abbas was able to make the Palestinian fight for independent a legitimate one, so much so that Israel will have to deal with an investigation in the court in The Hague in the next months or years.
The Israeli readers of this article, I am sure, remember all too well the terrible days of the Intifadas, the daily terror attacks, the fear we felt and all the people that so tragically lost their lives. Even though no one can say we live in a safe era, today is nowhere near the situation back then. Whether we like to admit it or not, Abbas played a major role in stopping the wave of terror and made the conflict in a way livable, at least when it comes to the West Bank (the Gaza Strip is a completely different story, with Hamas controlling it and constantly trying to undermine Abbas).
Over the years, the Palestinian public opinion and trust in Abbas significantly deteriorated, not calling for elections, violently ending any protest against him, offering “his” people key positions within the institutions and the normalization agreement between Israel, UAE, Morocco, Sudan and Bahrain, which ended years of “bad blood” between our country and the Arab world, are only some of the factors contributing to the erosion of Abbas’ popularity. Moreover, if we consider the ongoing political conflict between Hamas and Fatah, with the former increasing its power within the West Bank, we know there are reasons to be worried about what will happen next.
While writing these words, the Israeli police and IDF are on a search for the terrorist who placed bombs at the Jerusalem bus station, killing one teen and injuring several civilians yesterday morning. This is just one of many murderous attacks committed by Palestinians from the West Bank in the last years. Often enough, the perpetrators are young men linked to Hamas, either as active members or being influenced by their hateful propaganda and intentions.
Unlike the “old style” terrorists, I don’t think the younger generation desires to die. They don’t really want to perform suicide terrorist attacks, they shoot and run, they stab and try to escape or they place bombs in public areas and not on themselves. It appears probable that they don’t want to follow the footsteps of the older generation, they want to be freedom fighters on social media, maybe resembling to the ones they see in other conflicts. This generation has a lot more to lose as well. The Palestinian cause is a popular one today. Differently than during the days of the Intifadas, they now enjoy significant support all over the world, from governments to celebrities.
In recent years, during military operations in Gaza or in the West Bank, with Hamas firing thousands of missiles against the Israeli population, their actions are justified and their cause is shored up. This is a major victory for Abbas and his way. They might not have a state but he was able to make the Palestinian fight a legitimate and justifiable one in the eyes of many.
Going back to the issue of the day after Abbas, I am not optimistic. I believe that, without a drastic change with Abbas fighting to implement a “normal”, democratic system in Palestine, giving the stage to leaders who will follow his non-violent measures, the future may be scary. We can only hope for a leader who will advocate for peace, ending the unrealistic desires of destroying Israel, of taking all the land. Without this there is a serious danger that we are going to witness a bloody battle between Hamas and Fatah for power. I fear a scenario with Hamas triumphing, which will bring us back to the old days of terror. In this case both Israelis and Palestinian will pay a heavy price, the kind none of us want to think about.