There are two ways to explain recent Israeli statements attacking President Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen, as irrelevant after Hamas’ victory in January’s parliamentary elections.
One is the atmosphere generated by the upcoming Israeli elections in which Israeli politicians seem to find it necessary to take extreme positions on all Palestinian-related issues. The second would appear to be an attempt to preempt any potential that Abu Mazen might rescue his people from their internal and international crisis.
Hamas’ election victory and the Israeli/international response have created an impasse from which the two sides need a way out. Hamas, whose victory was overwhelming, is gradually realizing that it cannot fully realize that victory without a minimal level of cooperation with other forces internally and a minimal level of cooperation with the international community. The movement, however, does not know how to achieve this.
The international community, in turn, wants, is even obligated, to maintain the survival of the Palestinian Authority and prevent its possible collapse and the consequent chaos that would ensue. Members of the international community understand that they cannot ensure this without minimal cooperation with any Hamas government, but don’t know how to enter into such cooperation.
Abu Mazen might be exactly the person to create the common ground that will ensure a vote of confidence by the Hamas-dominated Legislative Council for a specific Palestinian government and at the same time retain the necessary international support for such a government to survive.
The two sides, i.e., Hamas and Israel/the international community, need Abu Mazen. They thus need to grant him concessions so he can draw lines that are acceptable to both sides. These concessions have to be reasonable. Hamas cannot be asked to give concessions that would render its victory meaningless. Nor can Israel/the international community be expected to abrogate their interests in maintaining the PA, which in a sense can be considered an international project: it was established by international agreement, maintained by international aid and reformed after international pressure.
In this sense, Abu Mazen is acutely relevant to Palestinian society, to Israel and to the international community. Indeed, he, his position and approach, seem to be the only way out for everybody of the current impasse.
However, it is exactly this potential role that if given the chance, will maintain the necessary and vital cooperation between Palestinians and the international community, that appears to be targeted by the Israeli statements, which aim only to weaken and draw away attention from Abu Mazen.
Abu Mazen’s comparative advantage is his unique local and international credibility and undoubted commitment to a political solution reached through negotiations rather than violent confrontations. In addition, he is the only Palestinian leader with the same or even greater legitimacy than Hamas, having being elected by the Palestinian public on a platform that is in stark contrast to that of Hamas’. It is Abu Mazen’s platform that Palestinians and outsiders should seek to strengthen.