By Khalid Amayreh
With the massive Israeli onslaught against the Gaza Strip continuing unabated, and with Israeli political and military leaders threatening to “decimate” Hamas, Palestinian intellectuals as well as ordinary people expect Hamas’s popularity to rise dramatically when the present Israeli campaign is over.
Israel claims that its war on Gaza is with Hamas, not with the Palestinian people. However, There is hardly a Palestinian who would give the Israeli claim the benefit of the doubt.
And those who do, such as the followers of the so-called “American-Israeli Trend” within the Fatah movement, are quite reluctant to speak up publicly, fearing a severe reaction from the Palestinian public and being accused of treason and collaboration with Israel.
Israel also hopes that the vast havoc and destruction and death wreaked on Gaza so far would prompt the masses to blame Hamas.
However, apart from some Fatah figures who have vested interests in portraying Hamas in bad light, most Palestinians are blaming Israel and the “treacherous Arab regimes” for the Gaza nightmare.
On Wednesday, the American-backed Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was forced to acknowledge that the “Israeli aggression” was targeting not a specific Palestinian faction, but the entire Palestinian people.
“This criminal aggression is targeting all Palestinians without discrimination,” said Abbas in pre-recorded speech broadcast by the Fatah-controlled Palestine TV.
The Palestinian leader also hinted that he might terminate futile peace talks with Israel if the Jewish state continued to use the talks as a rubric for murdering and tormenting the Palestinian people.
It is not certain if Abbas’s relatively tough tone is genuine or disingenuous. Skeptics, and they are many, think that Abbas is only trying to mollify the decidedly anti-Israeli Palestinian public.
In recent days, Hamas accused a number of PA figures, including two top aides to Chairman Abbas, al Tayeb Abdul Rahim and Nimr Hamad, of colluding with Israel against Hamas.
Hamas’s officials in Gaza accused Abdul Rahim of directing a cell of Fatah informers in Gaza to collect information on Hamas’s targets and relay it to Israel via Ramallah.
Such charges, coupled with the widespread views in the Arab world that the PA along with Egypt were conniving and conspiring with Israel to bring down the Hamas government have forced the Ramallah regime into a defensive posture.
“We have been struggling for forty years, and no one has the right to doubt our credentials,” Abbas angrily told reporters earlier.
However, such defensive reflexes by PA leaders are failing to convince the skeptical Palestinian public opinion of their innocence.
“There are widespread feelings among Palestinians that the PA is quite satisfied with what is happening in Gaza . And undoubtedly this is going to seriously undermine the image of Palestinian leadership,” opined Abdul Sattar Qassem, Professor of political Science at the Najah National University in Nablus .
Qassem predicted that the current Israeli campaign would actually lead to the boosting of Hamas’s popularity.
“ Israel , and probably some other Arab regimes, think that the intensive bombing and pornographic murder in Gaza would force the Palestinian main street to abandon or rise up against Hamas. This was undoubtedly the goal behind the harsh blockade of Gaza . But of course no serious uprising against Hamas took place.
“From my observations of the general mood in Gaza and Palestine in general, I don’t think that even those who hate Hamas would rise up against it, mainly because of the broad-based support it enjoys. Yes, many people may be quite satisfied seeing Israel bomb Hamas targets, but their ability to mobilize the Palestinian street against the movement is very limited.
“Moreover, the anti-Hamas elements know that they won’t be able to successfully confront Hamas’s supporters in the streets.”
Qassem said he believed that the PA would be the biggest loser in the current showdown between Israel and Hamas.
“If Israel succeeded in dismantling the government of Gaza , and then handed over the coastal enclave to the PA, then most Palestinians and Arabs and Muslims would view the PA as a quisling entity very much like defunct Israeli puppet South Lebanese army.”
Another Palestinian intellectual, Abdul Bari Atwan, predicts that public support for Hamas will increase as a result of the present Israeli campaign in the Gaza Strip.
“The Palestinian people is not stupid, it knows very well who the real patriots are and who the real traitors are. Abbas is not a real President of the Palestinian people. He is answerable to Israel and the United States , not to the Palestinian people,” said the Editor-in-Chief of the London based Arabic daily, al Quds al Arabi.
The mood of ordinary Palestinians who are unaffiliated with any political faction doesn’t differ much.
“I think Israel wouldn’t have started this genocide without at least a wink from Abbas,” said Hasan Amer, a cabbie from the Bethlehem region.
“Things are clear and one doesn’t have to be versed in politics to see the facts.”
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