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Neither Hamas, Nor Abbas: After The War, The Palestinians Will Still Need A Leader

The lack of credible Palestinian leadership could plague the region once the war is over, leaving it without any legitimate political representation.

Photo of a woman with a Palestinian flag painted on her face during a rally

Protester at a pro-Palestinian rally

Felipe Figueroa/SOPA Images/ZUMA
Pierre Haski


PARIS — It's an unanswerable question, but one that we will have to face once the dust settles: Who can speak for the Palestinians?

It may be hard to imagine right now, but at some point, a political dialogue will have to be restarted, to put an end to the cycle of violence. The question is, with whom?

The two main forces in the region both face significant obstacles. First is Hamas, which has undoubtedly gained significant popularity among desperate Palestinians by directly confronting Israel, but whose terrorist methods have disqualified it from being a potential interlocutor. And even if history has taught us to never say never, its actions seem impossible to overlook today.

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The other major player is the Palestinian Authority. Chaired by Mahmoud Abbas — representing what's left of the once-powerful Palestine Liberation Organization, headed by Yasser Arafat — it has lost credibility in a profound, irreversible way.

At age 88, Abbas hasn't renewed his electoral mandate since 2005, and now helms but a shadow of what his organization once stood for. The Palestinian Authority, which somehow survived the failure of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, is powerless and has been marginalized by Israeli authorities. It is the very embodiment of the current impasse.

Political vacuum and third Intifada

On Wednesday, protesters in Ramallah, gathered after the explosion at the Gaza hospital, attempted to march on Mahmoud Abbas's offices but were stopped by the Palestinian police.

There are other, smaller organizations, such as the Islamic Jihad — which is just as violent as Hamas — and the Marxist-oriented Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which no longer has the impact of its former leader, George Habache, who died fifteen years ago.

But to negotiate, credible interlocutors need to emerge.

In recent months in the West Bank, in the midst of a political vacuum and rising settler violence, some have predicted a "third Intifada" (after the uprisings of 1987 and 2000), which would make it one in every generation since Israel took control of Palestinian territories in the 1967. But the terrorist attack of October 7 changed everything.

Photo of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas


A void to fill

The Israeli-Palestinian equation will no longer be the same after the war. Both because of the trauma inflicted on Israeli society but also because of the resurgence of the Palestinian question to the forefront. The attempts to bypass the Palestinians in the Abraham Accords between Israel and several Arab countries are proving illusory. In private, some Western nations regret having abandoned all diplomatic efforts.

But to negotiate, credible interlocutors need to emerge. On the Israeli side, there may be a changing of the guard once the aftermath of the events on October 7 becomes clearer. On the Palestinian side, this can be achieved by finding ways to bring forth new leaders.

Some are looking to Israeli prisons, with men like Marwan Barghouti, the popular Fatah leader, sentenced 20 years ago for terrorist attacks. His name was already on the list of prisoners Hamas wished to exchange for Gilad Shalit, even though he is not a member of the Islamist group. That very same scenario is being considered today.

What is certain for now is that Palestinians lack credible leaders. And that it will be necessary to fill this void to overcome the current impasse

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AI And War: Inside The Pentagon's $1.8 Billion Bet On Artificial Intelligence

Putting the latest AI breakthroughs at the service of national security raises major practical and ethical questions for the Pentagon.

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

Drone on the tarmac during a military exercise near Vícenice, in the Czech Republic

Sarah Scoles

Number 4 Hamilton Place is a be-columned building in central London, home to the Royal Aeronautical Society and four floors of event space. In May, the early 20th-century Edwardian townhouse hosted a decidedly more modern meeting: Defense officials, contractors, and academics from around the world gathered to discuss the future of military air and space technology.

Things soon went awry. At that conference, Tucker Hamilton, chief of AI test and operations for the United States Air Force, seemed to describe a disturbing simulation in which an AI-enabled drone had been tasked with taking down missile sites. But when a human operator started interfering with that objective, he said, the drone killed its operator, and cut the communications system.

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