By Ilan Berman, Al-Hurra Digital—
Predictably, the latest violence in the Middle East has spawned a slew of theories about the reasons for renewed hostilities between Israel and Gaza. Conventional wisdom has settled on the notion that the conflict was driven by fresh Israeli-Palestinian frictions over things like denial of access to parts of Jerusalem, as well as controversial Israeli court decisions relating to property ownership by Israeli Arabs. Largely overlooked, however, is the fact that Hamas’ decision to launch a new rocket war against the Jewish state also had a great deal to do with a more local factor: internal Palestinian politics.
Here, it’s useful to remember that the fighting followed closely on the heels of the Palestinian Authority’s decision to call off planned leadership elections. Back in January, PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas – seeking to regain political relevance in the wake of last year’s Abraham Accords and responding to mixed signals from the new Biden administration – announced that elections at both the legislative and presidential levels would take place this May.
It quickly became apparent, however, that such a step could end up having ruinous political consequences, for Abbas himself most of all. After years of misrule, approval for Abbas and his Fatah faction were dismal; a March 2019 poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center, a Palestinian survey group, found trust in Abbas hovered at less than 12%. (In an April 2021 poll by the same firm, it was marginally better: 14.5%) The grievances against Abbas and his cronies range from allegations of rampant corruption to, more recently, poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Whatever the reasons, this dissatisfaction created the conditions for an extremely volatile political environment. Another recent survey, this one by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, estimated that Fatah would still secure the highest level of support (43% of likely voters) in the planned May elections. But, it noted, Fatah’s ranking would be followed closely by that of Hamas (at 30%). And with nearly a fifth (18%) of probable Palestinian voters classified as “undecided,” the likelihood of an electoral upset was high. Continue Reading…