The Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership has taken a public stance in support of Palestinians who have been protesting for more than two weeks on the Gazan side of the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian leadership, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, has condemned Israel for shooting dead 32 Gazans and has pushed for a UN Security Council resolution criticizing the Israeli army’s use of force against them.
However, despite the Palestinian leadership’s public expressions of solidarity with thousands of Gazan protesters, it privately stands in opposition to the ongoing demonstrations.
The protests, which have been dubbed “the Great March of Return” and have received major backing from Hamas, started in the border region between Israel and Gaza on March 30 and are slated to last until May 15.
While the IDF has described the protests as “violent riots,” asserting protesters have thrown Molotov cocktails and rocks at its security forces, as well as opened fire on them and tried to enter Israel’s territory, several international and local human rights groups have accused the Israeli military of using excessive force against “unarmed protesters.”
“The [Palestinian leadership] does not like the protests in Gaza because they feel that Hamas is taking advantage of them for their political gain,” Mohammed Daraghmeh, a West Bank-based Palestinian journalist, told The Jerusalem Post in a phone call.
“The protests are actually embarrassing for them because Hamas and the people in Gaza are taking the show and putting themselves on the local, regional and international agenda, while they are doing nothing in the West Bank.”
While Hamas did not originally take a leadership role in organizing the protests that have brought thousands of Gazans to the border region on the past two Fridays, the Islamist movement has effectively coopted them and become their major leader. Hamas has been calling on people to go to the protests and sent its top leaders, including its Politburo Chairman Ismail Haniyeh and Gaza Chief Yahya Sinwar. It has also made payments to Palestinians injured in the protests and to family members of those who have been killed in them.
MEANWHILE, in the West Bank, a few scattered, small and unnoteworthy protests have taken place in the past two weeks.
And top Gaza-based Fatah officials, including Fatah Central Committee member Ahmad Hilles, have not even made an appearance at the protests in the Strip.
Ghaith al-Omari, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former adviser to Abbas, echoed Daraghmeh’s point and added that there are two additional reasons the Palestinian leadership has not thrown its support behind the protests.
“First of all, the [Palestinian leadership] is not supportive of the protests because suddenly all of the focus in the Palestinian arena has shifted to Hamas and Gaza and they have become irrelevant.
Secondly, they are also worried that the protests will spill over to the West Bank and potentially create security problems there,” he told the Post in a phone call.
Since becoming PA president in 2005, Abbas has made considerable efforts to stabilize the security situation in the West Bank. While he has rhetorically endorsed mass protests, he has hesitated to bring them to fruition in the territory, fearing a harsh Israeli response and the possibility of the PA losing control.
“Third, the protests are thwarting Abbas’s attempts to levy new sanctions against Hamas and Gaza,” Omari said. “Even though he wants to put new sanctions in place, he feels that he cannot while Israel and Palestinians in Gaza are standing off against each other.”
When Abbas accused Hamas of carrying out an assassination attempt against PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on March 19, he vowed to impose new sanctions on Gaza, suggesting he would soon cut budgets allocated to the territory.
As of Monday, Abbas still had not implemented any budget cuts to Gaza.
Abbas, himself, has also even publicly hinted that he is not in favor of the protests. On Sunday night at a meeting of the Fatah Central Committee, he gave his first televised statement in more than a week and did not mention the protests in Gaza or the Palestinians who died during them. Instead, in his only reference to Gaza, he suggested that if Hamas does not hand over full control of Gaza to the PA , he will cut the rest of the budgets allocated to the coastal territory.