A senior Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter frankly, denied that assertion. But he said Israel has come to recognize that Hamas is the de facto power in Gaza, casting doubt on Abbas’s claim as leader of all Palestinians.
“We don’t want to harm Abu Mazen,” the official said, using Abbas’s nickname. But “the idea that Abu Mazen will reinstate himself into Gaza. . . . We don’t see it.”
Hamas expressed support this past week for Abbas’s bid at the United Nations, but its members deride him as a lackey of Israel.
“Resistance has succeeded in forcing the Israelis to hide” in bomb shelters, supermarket employee Hassam al-Badouwi, 28, said at a pro-Hamas rally in Ramallah before the cease-fire. “I advise Abu Mazen to take a vacation.”
The rally itself was evidence of Hamas’s newfound confidence in the West Bank. Since the Fatah-Hamas split in 2007, Hamas has been driven underground, many of its leaders have been jailed, and pious Muslims say they have been persecuted. Fatah says its members in Gaza are persecuted by Hamas.
But even before the latest hostilities, Hamas leaders in the West Bank said the Arab Spring and the rise of Islamism were starting to change their fortunes. In an interview this summer, a senior Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Ramahi, said the movement’s members were demonstrating more freely and had been invited to Arab embassies for the first time in years.
In a bluster-filled victory speech Friday, Hamas’s prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, suggested that cooperating with Israel — as the Palestinian Authority does, and as ousted Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak did, on security and other matters — was a thing of the past.
“Egypt has changed, the whole [Muslim] nation has changed. They are different now from the previous regimes, which provided a cover for the occupation,” Haniyeh said. “The resistance confirmed . . . the unity of the Muslim nation, and that supporting the resistance is the shortest route to the liberation of Palestine.”
‘A healthy change’
Fatah leaders say they are not worried by the ascent of Islamists, although Western diplomats say they detect a sense of concern from the party. Some Fatah officials say power will expose Islamists as poor leaders; others say that the Arab Spring, no matter its ideological currents, can only help a Palestinian cause that has powerful public support across Muslim-majority countries.
“This is a healthy change, as long as moderate Islam is in control and they are realistic when dealing with political issues,” said Abdel Fattah Hamayel, a senior Fatah member who is governor of Bethlehem.
Hamayel spent 19 years in Israeli prisons for belonging to and organizing for the party, and he said he fears a return to the armed resistance touted by Hamas would put his children in jail.
But he and other Fatah members say they recognize that their party is under public pressure to change, at least for the moment.
“My hope is that all this will be channeled into more unity,” said Nabil Shaath, a senior Fatah member who returned Saturday from a visit to Gaza, where he said he stood in solidarity with Hamas.
But, Shaath added, the growing appeal of Hamas and other Palestinian factions that champion armed resistance are serving as a wake-up call for Fatah.
“We cannot just continue what we were used to doing before, hope for the quartet, the quintet, the sextet to do something,” Shaath said wryly of international mediation efforts. “We have to go into a much more aggressive posture.”
That does not mean a military stance, he said. But beyond peace talks — which the Palestinian Authority refuses to enter as long as Israel continues to build settlements — the options are limited. Ashrawi said she views the U.N. bid as a “last-ditch effort” for the authority. If the U.N. voters reject the bid, she said, “they will destroy the P.A.”
Abigail Hauslohner in Gaza City and Sufian Taha in Ramallah contributed to this report.