The big problem with Biden’s commitment to work with the Palestinian Authority in Gaza is that the PA leader Abbas’s influence is virtually negligible.
By Con Coughlin, The Gatestone Institute
To judge by the jubilant Palestinian celebrations that greeted the ceasefire that ended 11 days of fighting in the Gaza Strip, U.S. President Joe Biden’s belief that the agreement presents a “genuine opportunity to make progress” on resolving tensions between Israel and the Palestinians seems naively optimistic.
Moreover, the same can be said of the president’s pledge to provide Gaza with humanitarian and reconstruction aid to help the Palestinian residents in the wake of the latest outbreak of fighting between Israel and the Palestinians.
Speaking shortly after the ceasefire had been implemented, Biden said the White House would work with the United Nations and other international aid organisations “to provide urgent humanitarian assistance and mobilize international support for the people of Gaza and the efforts to rebuild Gaza.”
The American leader has now followed this up by promising to end Washington’s “years of neglect” of the Palestinian cause. To this end the White House has sent Secretary of State Antony Blinken on a hastily arranged Middle East tour to maintain the “quiet intensive diplomacy” that took place during the Gaza violence.
The fundamental problem with the Biden administration’s approach, though, is that, in their effort to rebuild relations with the Palestinians, they are investing all their political capital in the ability of the Palestinian Authority, which is headed by the ineffectual Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, to help achieve their goals.
As Biden emphasized last weekend, “We will do this in full partnership with the Palestinian Authority.”
The big problem, though, with Biden’s commitment for the U.S. to work with the Palestinian Authority in Gaza is that the ability of Abbas’s organisation to exercise any influence over Gaza is virtually negligible.
While Abbas continues to indulge in the fiction that he is the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, the reality so far as Gaza is concerned is that it is the Islamist leaders of Hamas who exercise total control over Gaza.
The jubilant celebrations that took place among Palestinians when the ceasefire finally took hold were not held to express their relief that the fighting was over. The celebrations took place as a demonstration of support for Hamas’s role in launching a massive attack on Israel.
Abbas’s impotence as a leader was graphically demonstrated during the fighting when he was reduced to the status of a bewildered bystander as Hamas directed its relentless bombardment of Israeli towns and cities.
The bad news for Biden is that Hamas not only has zero interest in working with the U.S. and other aid agencies on reconstruction projects in Gaza and other Palestinian territories. It has no interest in resolving tensions with Israel.
On the contrary, the main objective of the Hamas movement, which has been designated a terrorist organisation by the US and a host of other Western governments, is the complete destruction of the state of Israel, an ambition it shares with Iran, Hamas’s close ally and benefactor.
The profound influence Iran exercises over Hamas and other Gaza-based Islamist groups, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad, was demonstrated by the estimated 4,000 rockets that were fired at predominantly civilian Israeli targets during 11 days of intense bombardment.
Israeli defence officials have concluded that the majority of these rockets have been built in Gaza based on designs and technology provided by Iran.
As a result, Hamas has acquired the ability to strike targets deep within Israel, whereas previously the organization’s home-made Qassem missiles could only strike Israeli targets close to the Gaza border, such as the Israeli seaport of Ashkelon.
Of particular concern for Israeli defence officials was Hamas’s attempts to use Iranian-made “kamikaze” drones to attack Israeli targets. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have successfully used their newly-developed drone technology in Yemen, where the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have used the weapons to attack targets in Saudi Arabia, including oil facilities in the Gulf.
The Israeli military has confirmed that Hamas attempted to penetrate Israel’s vaunted Iron Dome system by directing a battery of Iranian-made drones at Israel.
At one point, the threat from the barrages Hamas directed at Israel war led Israeli commanders to deploy its missile interceptors on the back of frigates patrolling the Mediterranean coast to defend gas installations and the mainland.
Even though the Israeli military was able to thwart the Hamas drone attack, the overall Hamas campaign has been hailed by Iran as a “historic victory” over Israel.
Indeed, Israeli intelligence officials believe Iran deliberately used the recent bout of fighting to test Israel’s air defence systems with a view to improving Hamas’s capability to inflict maximum damage on the Israeli people in any future conflict.
Consequently, far from seeking to improve relations with Israel, so long as Hamas remains the dominant force in Palestinian politics, Biden’s naive hope of rebuilding Washington’s ties with the Palestinian people is doomed to fail.
Con Coughlin is the Telegraph’s Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.