Mahmoud Abbas is the PA’s President-for-Life, now entering the 16th year of his four-year term. He has decided to hold parliamentary and presidential elections this summer, in order to impress the Biden Administration with his suddenly-discovered democratic credentials. But there are problems, and Nadav Argaman, the Shin Bet head, went to visit the rais in Ramallah to discuss a worrisome possibility. The report on that meeting is here.
The head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas not to run or form a government with Hamas in the upcoming elections, Axios reported Wednesday [March 24]..
According to the report, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman met with Abbas in Ramallah to urge him not to collaborate with Hamas out of concern in the Israeli security establishment that the Islamist terrorist group may exploit electoral success to take over the West Bank, as it did in Gaza.
In 2006, Hamas defeated Fatah in parliamentary elections in Gaza. The next year, Hamas launched a violent attack on Fatah members, killing some and driving others into exile in the West Bank. Since Hamas took complete control of Gaza, it has started two wars with the Jewish state. Israel fears that in the parliamentary elections that the PA has scheduled for May 22, Hamas may well win. Abbas is doing what he can to weaken his political rivals by, for example, depriving those who dare to oppose his list of candidates of their livelihood. When Nasser al-Kidwa, Yasser Arafat’s nephew, announced that he would leave Fatah and present his own list of candidates to run in the parliamentary election, an enraged Abbas cut off PA funds to the Yasser Arafat Foundation, where al-Kidwa held a sinecure; now al-Kidwa has lost his main source of funding. Nadav Argaman thinks that Abbas is too confident, and has underestimated the power of Hamas to field attractive candidates for the Parliament. He went to Ramallah to make that point.
Palestinian officials have claimed Argaman told Abbas to cancel the scheduled May 22 elections, but that Abbas refused.
Israeli officials have denied this, but said that Argaman did tell Abbas that a government that included Hamas would cause a serious crisis in PA-Israel relations.
Of course Israel did not tell Abbas to “cancel” the May 22 elections. That would have been the surest way to have Abbas defiantly declare that “no one will stop us from having free and fair elections. The Israelis tried to stop us. I told them to go to hell.” What Argaman did deliver was a warning, that Abbas’ candidates might be defeated by those of Hamas, and give the terror group control of the parliament. That would give more power to Hamas officials who would likely demand, as a price of their support, that Abbas — assuming he were to win the presidential election on July 16 — end all security cooperation with Israel.
Israeli sources also said that the White House is apparently unconcerned about the elections, and “didn’t give the Palestinians any negative signals about it.”
The Biden Administration seems unconcerned about a possible win by Hamas because it assumes that Abbas will manage to somehow stack the deck and get his candidates elected. It’s a backhanded tribute to the wiles of the President-for-Life. The Israelis, who keenly remember what happened in Gaza in 2006 and 2007, with first the elections and then the internecine conflict that left Hamas in sole control, do not share that naïve confidence.
The US administration has yet to announce its stance on the elections and it has not even been discussed at senior levels, sources said.
Of course the Biden people cannot come out against elections. But it is dismaying that it has apparently not even been discussing possible scenarios, and what kind of help, open or sub rosa, it can give to prevent a Hamas victory. For example, Washington might make publicly clear that while it could, if the “Pay-for-Slay” program were to end, renew economic aid to the PA and to UNRWA, no aid would be forthcoming to a Hamas-led government. That might give pause to those Palestinians who may have been planning to vote for Hamas, but also are suffering great economic distress and are desperate for that American aid to be renewed.
According to a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Abbas’ Fatah party is leading Hamas 38% to 22%, but 57% of Palestinians want Abbas to step down rather than run for president again.
The poll’s 38% for Fatah to 22%for Hamas shows a healthy lead for Fatah over Hamas, but hardly an overwhelming one. What about the other 40% of the electorate, made up of those who are still undecided, and still do not favor either of the above? Hamas could yet prevail over Fatah, if it manages to garner support from other candidates who, though not part of Hamas, are definitely determined to bring down Mahmoud Abbas; almost 60% of Palestinians want to see him replaced. Hamas might begin by reaching out to Nasser al-Kidwa, a recent renegade from Fatah, trying to garner his support, and offering his candidates places on the Hamas list of candidates.
What the Shin Bet’s Nadav Argaman delivered was simply a warning: “You, Mahmoud Abbas, are in trouble in the upcoming parliamentary elections, and we Israelis want you to win. We know what a victory for Hamas would mean: the Palestinian-ruled parts of the West Bank would become another Gaza.” Argaman no doubt hoped his meeting with Abbas would be a wake-up call. Then Abbas might bestir himself, and no longer rely just on Fatah loyalists, but swallow his pride, and make his own agreements with non-Fatah candidates, in order to keep Hamas from winning. He might even try a reconciliation with Nasser al-Kidwa.
For Israel, Abbas has been nothing but trouble. Conniving, lying, grasping, he’s the interlocutor from hell some idiots in Washington like to call a “partner for peace.” But when he is compared to the death-dealing terrorists of Hamas, Israel has no choice. And that’s why the leader of Shin Bet, Nadav Argaman, made his way to meet Mahmoud Abbas a few weeks ago in Ramallah, to warn him of what could come to pass, a Hamas victory that neither of them wants.
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