Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s recent call for Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections is an obvious ploy to persuade President Biden that there could be a new beginning for relations between the U.S. and the Palestinians. Indeed, the Trump years were not kind to Abbas and the people he purports to represent, and he is desperate to emerge as a leader in control of his people and someone to be taken seriously by those interested in the future of the Middle East.
But his desperation is no substitute for facts on the ground, and we hope Biden and company will not be taken in. While it may be an exaggeration to say that all Abbas and his Fatah faction control are a couple of fruit stands in Ramallah, it does make the point that Hamas – a designated terrorist group implacably committed to the destruction of Israel – is the real power in the Palestinian world. And dealing with either an Abbas- or Hamas-led Palestinian government would be a peace-seeking exercise in futility.
That Abbas is desperate is an understatement. The Trump administration cut off all aid and backed a Mideast peace plan that almost completely favored Israel’s wish list. The Trump policy on aid, Jerusalem, and the Abraham Accords are just three of the notable issues. And the latter development was proof positive that the Arab world is moving on beyond fixating on the Palestinian cause and time was quickly passing the Palestinians by.
So Abbas embarked on so-called unity talks with Hamas with the ostensible goals of having elections including all Palestinian factions and the solid front that would emerge from all participants abiding by the results. Yet, if history in any guide, an analysis of Hamas’s military power released by a top IDF official renders all of this a pipe dream. Hamas will not defer to Abbas’s leadership because it doesn’t have to.
According to the unnamed senior IDF official, the Hamas terror group that rules in Gaza has replenished its military arsenal since its 2014 war with Israel and now has some 7,000 rockets, as well as 300 anti-tank and 100 anti-aircraft missiles. It has also acquired dozens of unmanned aerial vehicles and has an army of some 30,000, including 400 naval commandos who have received sophisticated training and equipment. All of this to enable military confrontation with Israel.
Parenthetically, the smaller Islamic Jihad terror group, based in Gaza, boasts a similar arsenal of 6,000 rockets, dozens of drones, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, and some 400 naval forces.
Meanwhile, the armed force available to Abbas and the Palestinian Authority is internally focused and police-oriented with little ability to project military power beyond its own perimeter. Certainly, unlike the Hamas and Islamic Jihad militaries, the PA military is not designed to challenge Israeli military might but rather to control its own citizens.
But the issue here is not how the various Palestinian militaries match up against the IDF, but rather against themselves. And that leads to the ineluctable conclusion that the Palestinian elections – if they come off – will not matter one whit. The bottom line is that electoral victories by Abbas will not compel Hamas obedience or support. And a victorious Hamas will not transform it into a suitable negotiating partner.
Further, the conventional wisdom in the days when a two-state solution was the stated goal of Middle East peace efforts was that the Palestinian state would be demilitarized. That always seemed to us to be a fanciful notion since Hamas and Islamic Jihad enjoyed a virtual military monopoly in the Palestinian world, and the idea that they would simply throw that all away is somewhat unrealistic.
Indeed, have there been any instances in modern history when something like this has occurred? Maybe – but none readily come to mind.