RAMALLAH, West Bank – The hostilities in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas have raised sympathy among many Palestinians for the Islamist militant group and elevated its status at the expense of the rival Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, observers say.
Abbas, who views himself as the leader of all Palestinians, has been sidelined as Hamas has taken center stage in the struggle against Israel and received a string of VIP visitors in Gaza, even as Israeli airstrikes continued to pound the Hamas-ruled strip.
Abbas has had no role in efforts to broker a peace agreement between Israel and Hamas. The violence, which has included rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, meantime, has overshadowed his efforts to gain nonmember observer state status for Palestinians at the United Nations.
“The war on Gaza has left a big negative impact on the Palestinian Authority,” said Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian political analyst.
The Gaza conflict “has marginalized (the Palestinian Authority’s) role and made them appear much less important than Hamas,” Khatib said. “There are big and critical things happening while the authority seems unable to do anything about it.”
Abbas’ Fatah movement – co-founded by the late Yasser Arafat – still has a level of international stature denied to Hamas, which seized control of Gaza from Fatah in 2007 after winning parliamentary elections the year before. Israel, the United States and the European Union classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who arrived late Tuesday in Jerusalem, is expected to meet with Abbas today.
But the conflict of the last week has seen Arab and Turkish ministers journeying to Gaza to speak with Hamas representatives. Even before the current conflict, the emir of Qatar – an influential figure in Arab politics – visited Gaza without stopping in the West Bank, sparking speculation about what the gesture signaled to Palestinians.
A key mediating role has fallen to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who rose up from the ranks of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’ parent organization. After years of facing official repression, the Brotherhood is pushing to increase its clout throughout the region.