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Palestinian Authority: Just Who's in Charge?
Unlike Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is fully committed to the two-state solution being championed by the Obama Administration. The problem, however, is that Abbas is plainly no longer representative of those on whose behalf he negotiates and that means he has precious little ability to deliver on any promises he makes to the Israelis or Americans. His term of office formally expired in January, and that month's Israeli offensive in Gaza reduced his popularity to an all-time low. Were a new Palestinian election to be held today, it's doubtful that Abbas would even win the nomination of his own Fatah party, much less be able to beat a Hamas candidate at the polls. Hamas remains the majority party in the Palestinian legislature; it controls all of Gaza following a violent showdown in 2007 that saw Abbas' supporters ejected from power. Hamas may also be even more popular than Fatah in the Abbas-controlled West Bank, where free political activity is suppressed by Israeli and Palestinian security forces. (See pictures of Gaza after Israel's offensive)
The Gaza war made clear to all sides that Hamas could not be eliminated, and that everything from the urgent business of rebuilding the shattered territory to negotiating a peace deal with Israel could not be done without the organization's consent. Hence the current efforts to broker a unity government backed by both Fatah and Hamas. But as things stand, the U.S. wants that government to endorse the same principles it has demanded that Hamas embrace as a precondition for recognition: Recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by previous agreements. No dice, says Hamas, which has its own ideas about how to achieve peace, but on terms the Israelis are unlikely to accept. With Hamas in the ascendancy and the U.S.-allied Abbas in the weaker position, the Administration will likely struggle to implement its vision at both ends of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.