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With Each Passing Hour, Abbas Is Losing The West Bank To Hamas

In the capital of the Palestinian Authority, residents are outraged at Israel — but also their own leaders for not taking a harder line. The beneficiary is the militant group Hamas, which rules the other Palestinian enclave of Gaza, and is in an all-out war with Israel.

Photo of a Palestinian protestor with a sign showing the U.S. President Joe Biden riding on a military tank with an Arabic text that reads ''Killing Palestinian children is a legitimate target for Israel''

Palestinian demonstrator holds a sign Monday with U.S. President Joe Biden riding on a military tank with an Arabic text that reads ''Killing Palestinian children is a legitimate target for Israel''

Francesca Paci

RAMALLAH — After crossing the Hizma checkpoint, between the endless Israeli settlement of Pisgat Ze'ev and the cement wall that runs all the way to the Qalandiya refugee camp, perspectives on the war begin to change.

Here, about a half-hour drive from Jerusalem, masses of garbage catch on barbed wire, and the supposed sanctity of the land feels more like a curse.

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Here, the October 7 massacre in the kibbutz near Gaza is, at worst, an "effect." The cause is "occupation," and blaming fingers point squarely at the National Authority — meaning President Mahmoud Abbas — for being an"enemy collaborator."

"No one openly states support for Hamas because they would immediately be arrested. But all hearts beat for resistance," says Mahmoud, 23, who has a degree in electronic engineering, and works at the bustling Ramallah street car wash.

Behind him, a mural of Yasser Arafat, darkened by the recent clashes, serves as a reminder of a lost era.

On Wednesday, following the bombing of a hospital in Gaza that killed hundreds, AFP reports that protesters in nearby Nablus — some holding Hamas banners — chanted slogans against Israel and the United States. But also against Abbas.

War massacre

More than a week after the bloody assault by Hamas and the beginning of the bombings in Gaza, the official political voice of the Palestinians has remained mostly silent. Abbas did release a statement early Wednesday calling the hospital bombing a "hideous war massacre," and saying negotiations with Israel were no longer possible.

Still it took more than a week of relative silence, which his fellow countrymen label as "inaction," for the 87-year-old Abbas to take a hard line against Israel. He likened the forced evacuation of Gaza to "a new Nakba," the catastrophic 1948 exodus of Palestinians following the establishment of the state of Israel.

This is the time for unity and not the division of Palestinians.

Abbas also had a conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which included a request for "safe humanitarian corridors."

The Palestinian National Authority knows it's playing with fire.

But in the chatter on the ground, and via the exchange of videos of the exodus toward Gaza's border crossing at Rafah, Palestinians complain about how Abbas distanced himself from Hamas during a conversation with his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolás Maduro. Abbas' statement was quickly deleted from social media, likely because of the backlash it received.

One of these voices was that of Ahmed Ghneim, a Fatah parliamentarian and manager of the campaign for the release of Marwan Barghouti, the leader of the second intifada currently serving five life sentences in the nearby Ofer prison. Ghneim stated:

"Abbas' words against Hamas are very serious; this is the time for unity and not the division of Palestinians."

Playing with fire

Ramallah has changed in recent years, probably more than Israel understands. The expectations generated by the Oslo Accords, which translated into prosperity only for the officials of the Palestinian National Authority, have significantly increased the popularity of Hamas, even among the children of the upper-middle class.

This upper-middle class is capable of reconciling their own secularism with the Islamic nature of the new resistance, but are also confident they can emigrate if necessary. According to analyst Hamada Jabbar, "Forty percent of Palestinians do not align with either Hamas or Fatah, but among all the others, the Islamic movement is by far the majority."

The Palestinian National Authority knows it's playing with fire. The less they say about Gaza, the better, as the old guard of Fatah, Abbas Zaki, is well aware. He came out two days ago with an overt, emphatic praise for the Hamas leaders, before immediately contradicting himself.

Who represents the Palestinians today?

And opinions on October 7? Samiah, a 21-year-old medical student, answers: "The Hamas massacre? Assuming it's true..." She sits on a sofa at Caffé Vintage, smoking a water pipe. Some view the civilians killed in Kfar Aza, Be'eri, and Reim as a "consequence" of the occupation, and occasionally as a conspiracy, "fake news" which discredits Hamas.

If the Gaza leaders had hoped to see the West Bank rise up alongside them, they were disappointed. Apart from the deaths of at least 50 young Palestinians in the clashes at the checkpoints over the past week, the third intifada has not materialized. But at least on a tactical level, they are seen as heroes in Ramallah.

Photo of Palestinian protestors clashing with Israeli soldiers

Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank on Oct. 6

Nidal Eshtayeh/Xinhua/Zuma

Measuring every word

"They want to draw a parallel between Hamas and ISIS, but the resistance will prevail!" yells a young man in a pinstripe suit, drowned out by chants in the central Manara Square, during a rally for the liberation of Gaza. The masses gather under the watchful eye of a military helicopter.

It's a demonstration where Palestinian flags are not displayed as political symbols, because the green of Hamas would be targeted by the Palestinian Authority's police, the Eagle of Saladin would be attacked by the crowd, and Fatah's yellow would be seen as an intruder.

But the speakers playing "Ounadikom," the song of the past revolution, betray the organizing hand. The Palestinian Authority that still holds the monopoly on force here lacks credibility, so it needs to stand with Gaza without being recognized.

So who represents the Palestinians today? "We are a united people, but unfortunately, the gradual division of our leadership has made us weak in the face of the threat of being once again driven from this land," reflects scholar Jamal Zacout, who grew up in Gaza within the ranks of Fatah and left after the civil war of 2007.

The war, seen from Ramallah, holds a different perspective. Iran proclaims solidarity but, like Hezbollah, carefully watches American moves. Hamas celebrates the tactical success of an action that is proving fatal for the Palestinians in Gaza. Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, measures each statement , aware that every word could be one too many — and that whoever wins this war, he, the president without a people, has lost.

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Photo of a drone on the tarmac during a military exercise near Vícenice, in the Czech Republic

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