Abu Mazen - Asset or Liability?

Hamas' electoral victory influences the status and standing of Abu Mazen as well as the division of authority between the PA and the PLO.

In the wake of Hamas' electoral victory, Abu Mazen has stated that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is still committed to agreements signed with Israel and has been quoted as stating "We are going to go back and revive the role of the PLO" (Ha'aretz, 27/1). On the other hand, Hamas has demanded that some of the PLO diplomatic agents be replaced by Hamas loyalists. (Channel 2, 29/1).

These comments indicate a change in the division of powers and authorities between the PA and the PLO in the wake of Hamas' electoral victory, which will influence the status and standing of Abu Mazen.

What is the Issue?

The status of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people has been recognized by the Arab states (10/74), the UN (11/74) and Israel and the United States (9/93).

In accordance with this approach, in the Interim Agreement it was established that the PLO would represent the PA in the negotiations with Israel. In fact, the center of political power has moved from the PLO to the PA, and Israel has come to see the PA as a partner to the political process (see Israel's reservations to the Roadmap).

This process has taken place despite the PLO's having remained Israel's official interlocutor and despite Abu Mazen's having remained the President of the PA and the Chairman of the PLO.

The strategic goal of Hamas is the takeover of the PLO – the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people – and of the leadership of the entire Palestinian national movement on the basis of an Islamist-nationalist ideology. Fatah's control of the PA has served Hamas' strategy, which was based on influencing the political process without bearing the responsibility for its outcome. This responsibility was placed squarely on the shoulders of the Fatah.

Why is this Important? Why Now?

Following the elections, Hamas controls the PA while Fatah controls the PLO.

At present, Hamas is confronted with a strategic dilemma: To take advantage of its victory and to drive Fatah out of the leadership of the PLO as well, immediately taking over control of the Palestinian national movement; or To leave the PLO under Fatah's leadership, for the present time, and to try to transform the PA into the center of political power of the Palestinian national movement.

Nonetheless, it may well be the case that Hamas' electoral victory is in fact a strategic mishap for it. For the first time, Hamas is exposed to direct pressure which is likely to confront it with the tension between its commitment to the Palestinian population and its commitment to its ideology as appears in its charter.

Therefore, in recent days there has been a tendency in Hamas to leave Fatah at the political and financial front of the PA, facing the international community; and perhaps even to recognize the PLO status as the authorized Palestinian body to steer the Political process.

This approach will make it difficult for the international community to put effective pressure on the PA as headed by Hamas. Parallel to this, the PLO is becoming the last refuge of the moderate elements in Fatah headed by Abu Mazen that are attempting to revive it on the basis of its status as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

In this spirit, Hamas and Fatah may find it to be their mutual interest to place Fatah loyalists at the head to the PA government or to acquiesce to the PLO continuing to lead the political process.

Thus, it is necessary for Israel and the international community to adopt a position regarding the division of authorities between the PA and the PLO.

Policy Options

Israel is presented with two possible outcomes regarding the relationship between the PLO and the PA, as well as the role of Fatah in this regard. Fatah controls the PLO and heads the PA. The PLO remains the official interlocutor with Israel and the only partner in the political process-

  • On the one hand, this structure will permit a prima facie preservation of the framework of the political process. Thus, Israel and the international community will have a basis for easing the pressure on the PA. Nonetheless, it is clear that without Hamas' agreement there can be no political progress.
  • On the other hand, if Fatah members or moderate representatives should undertake leadership positions in the PA, and should the PLO, under Fatah's control, be recognized as the official interlocutor, the ability of Israel and the international community to impose effective pressure on Hamas will be compromised. Such a structure is likely to permit Hamas to continue to influence the political process without taking full responsibility for its outcome.

Hamas controls and leads the PA. Israel declares the PA as the only partner in the political process-

  • This structure accelerates the crisis between Israel and the Palestinians, permits the imposition of direct and ongoing political pressure on Hamas. This is because an overlap has been created between the responsibility and the authority of the Hamas movement as the dominant force in the PA, which will obstruct it to proceed with authority but to feel without responsibility.
  • This step requires Israel change the Palestinian interlocutor from the PLO to the PA. That is, Israel will need to insist that political decisions shall take place within the Legilative Council of the PA and not within the Palestinian National Council of the PLO.

Recommended Readings on Hamas:

Recommended Readings on Palestinian Politics: