Gaza Strip, Palestinian Territory
Hamas is quietly backing the bid by its arch-rival, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, to win recognition of statehood from the United Nations this month because the movement stands to gain no matter how Abbas' plans turn out, analysts said.
Musa Abu Marzuk, Hamas' deputy political bureau chief, criticized Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, for not consulting Hamas. But the Islamic movement, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 and opposes the existence of Israel, has officially refrained from taking a position on statehood.
For the movement silence is golden: If the statehood vote is successful, Hamas can bask in the glow, many analysts said. The movement could even inherit a UN-recognized state next spring if Palestinian elections go ahead as scheduled and Hamas wins. If the statehood drive fails, Abbas can suffer the humiliation of defeat alone.
"In the inner circle, Hamas figures are skeptical the bid will succeed. They actually very much hope that Abu Mazen fails in his bid to attain a Palestinian state because that would then delegitimize him and his approach and strengthen Hamas and its resistance approach," Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, told The Media Line. "But if he succeeds, Hamas will say, 'From the beginning we were not against it'."
The two sides disagree on how to deal with Israel. Hamas hopes to defeat the Jewish state through violence while Abbas favors a negotiated solution. When direct peace talks with Israel stalled last year, he shifted his focus on a bid to win UN recognition for a Palestinian state. If that drive doesn't succeed, he will be left with no other non-violent option, a dead end Hamas might profit from.
The two movements, which both claim to be the official Palestinian government, reached an agreement four months ago to reconcile and form an interim government of technocrats that would rule both the West Bank and Gaza until elections. But those talks have all but unraveled.
The most recent opinion polls have shown support for Hamas on the decline. A survey by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center in June found that 26.5 percent preferred a Fatah-majority government and 12.5 percent preferred one led by Hamas, while the majority (50.8 percent) wanted to see a government of independent figures.
Jamil Rabah, director of the Ramallah-based polling group Near East Consulting, said their monthly surveys have shown a dramatic drop in support for Hamas since January 2011.
"We have seen a big drop of support for Hamas, to 10 percent compared with 35 percent for Fatah, 5 percent for other parties. About 40 to 45 percent still non-aligned. You would be shocked if you saw our graphs. It has been on a downward scale for the past five years from 40 percent to 12 percent or 10 percent today while the support for Fatah has remained constant," Rabah told The Media Line.
"But that doesn't mean if there were elections that Hamas would lose. Hamas might win because there is a difference between attitude and behavior," Rabah said.
This scenario is exactly why Boaz Ganor, the director of Israel's International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), Abbas is adamant about pursuing statehood, even though he risks losing U.S. financial assistance. The president is more concerned with how he is remembered in the history books.
"[Abbas] is looking around and he sees what is being called the Arab Spring and he sees all of his old friends that used to walk together with them on the red carpets. One of them is in a cage, another is being hanged and the third one is going to be hanged," Ganor told The Media Line. "He doesn't want to end that way"
"He's interested in how the history books will write that under his term the Palestinian state was established or declared actually. That is his only purpose," Ganor said. "He wants this declaration to be remembered as the one he was responsible for."
Currently Abbas enjoys a 22 percent confidence rating, the highest among major Palestinian leaders. But he has announced he will not run again in the next election, set for May. Despite the public opinion polls, Ganor predicted that Hamas would win the elections and also the presidency.
"I'm quite convinced that there is no other figure in the Fatah organization that actually can win the election facing Hamas," Ganor said.
Abusada said a Hamas victory in the next election would find them with a prize of international recognition won by Abbas.
"The most tangible benefit for the Hamas in this UN bid would be if they were to win an election in the future and be on top of a Palestinian state, which was achieved by Abbas and not Hamas," Abusada said.
Ganor was more blunt. "Hamas knows two things; Abu Mazen is going to bring them the declaration of a Palestinian state they would never have been able to get from the international community and a few months after that they are going to get the keys to the Palestinian Authority and the international civilized Western liberalized societies will say 'What do you want? Those guys won the free election. They have been rehabilitated'."
However, the pollster Rabah wasn't so sure.
"While Hamas may win on the PLC (Palestine Legislative Council) level, I doubt it would do so on the presidential level because they don't have a strong candidate," Rabah said. "Fatah can generate someone and there are quite a number of well respected people while among Hamas the only one who has even slight credibility is Ismail Haniyyah," he said, referring to the Hamas prime minister.
According to the Near East Consulting poll, Haniyyah pulled a 13.6 percent confidence rating, making him the second most-trusted leader after Abbas. The third place went to Fatah's Marwan Barghouthi, currently in an Israeli prison, with 6.8 percent rating.
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