How Mahmoud Abbas Fans the Flames in Gaza

April 4, 2018 | Ghaith al-Omari and Grant Rumley
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While Hamas’s long-term goal remains, as always, the destruction of Israel, Ghaith al-Omari and Grant Rumley argue that the organization’s ongoing conflict with Mahmoud Abbas is the factor most likely to lead to an escalation in violence in Gaza. Thus, Hamas’s massive border protest on Friday was not about Israel’s restrictions on imports into the Gaza Strip, or Egypt’s sealing of its border with the territory, and certainly not about Gazans’ putative desire to return to the homes abandoned by their ancestors, but about breaking the stalemate with the Palestinian Authority brought about by Hamas’s refusal to pay its electricity bills. Nor is Hamas the only party to blame:

Abbas [himself] seems keen on instigating a broader clash. The Palestinian Authority leader made headlines last month for calling the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a “settler son of a dog” in a speech admonishing the Trump administration’s policies. . . . Yet in the same speech Abbas also directed the bulk of his ire toward Hamas, the group that overthrew his Palestinian Authority in Gaza over a decade ago. . . .

[While] blaming Hamas for an explosion [in Gaza] last month that targeted his prime minister and intelligence chief, Abbas is publicly mulling whether to [impose] further sanctions on an already impoverished Gaza Strip. Indeed, amid increasing concern over his deteriorating health, it appears the eighty-three-year-old leader is looking to strike a confrontational tone in the final act of his presidency, no matter the costs.

It’s these costs that are starting to concern Israeli security officials. The defense minister, Avigdor Liberman, recently accused Abbas of attempting to incite another Hamas-Israel war by cutting off funds to Gaza. American officials have echoed these concerns at a recent White House meeting over the humanitarian situation in Gaza. These fears are well founded. In recent weeks, several Israeli soldiers have been wounded as militant factions in the Strip placed improvised explosive devices along border fences. This, coupled with Hamas’s ongoing mass protests in Gaza, as well as any additional economic sanctions Abbas may impose on Gaza, have many worried that Liberman’s accusation is accurate. . . .

Abbas’s recent combative tone and actions suggest he cares more about his legacy and less about the repercussions of his policies. In Gaza, a cornered Hamas appears to be replicating the playbook that led to previous wars with Israel. Neither side seems particularly interested in de-escalation.

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