A three-week-old uprising by knife-wielding, Palestinian teenagers against Israelis has left 80-year-old Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas looking like yesterday’s man, unable either to oppose the violence or openly endorse it.
Having promised the Palestinians when he came to power a decade ago that he could bring about an independent state through peaceful means, he now finds himself sitting on top of a wave of unrest he apparently did not call for but cannot easily stop without further eroding his crumbling popularity among the Palestinians.
Meanwhile, the Hamas terror group that controls Gaza is actively encouraging a new Palestinian uprising, or intifada, bolstering its popularity and potentially outflanking Abbas’ Fatah party, which has seen its support slide. If elections were held tomorrow, polls show Hamas would win easily.
“This upsurge is mostly all bad for Abbas,” said Nathan Thrall, a senior Middle East analyst at the International Crisis Group. “Any change in confronting Israel is necessarily a weakening of Abbas and a strengthening of his Palestinian political opponents, both within Fatah and outside it.”
Abbas is caught in a dilemma: If he were to throw his support fully behind the violence, it would shut off any chance of a return to negotiations with Israel and alienate world powers who have backed him.
If he denounces the violence unequivocally, he risks being seen as a sell-out. His popularity is already weak, with a poll last month showing two-thirds of Palestinians want him to resign.
Abbas may be hoping for international engagement to come to his rescue, with foreign leaders responding to the violence by pushing for a resurrection of the peace process, in limbo since the last U.S. push for talks collapsed last year.