Tensions between Fatah and Hamas are rising amid international efforts to rebuild the Gaza Strip following the recent ceasefire as both parties use the conflict with Israel to hit back at each other.
Ironically, the al-Aqsa Mosque – which has frequently been used as a political tool for incitement against Israel and Jews – has now become a political battlefield between the bitter rivals Fatah and Hamas.
During the Muslim Friday prayers at al-Aqsa last week, pro-Hamas supporters attacked and kicked out Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, during his sermon while chanting pro-Hamas slogans.
The pretext for the attack on Hussein, who is affiliated with the Fatah party, was reportedly based on accusations that he had not praised Hamas’ “victory” during the 11 days of fighting with Israel.
While Hamas is an ascending political power, Abbas’ Fatah party appears to be in rapid decline. Abbas’ decision to cancel the first Palestinian elections in 15 years in April and Hamas’ rocket attacks against Israel, appear to have further strengthened the Islamic terror organization at the expense of Fatah.
In an effort to stay politically relevant, Abbas held phone consultations on regional developments with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Abbas and the Qatari leader reportedly discussed developments in “Palestine” and efforts for the international reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. In recent years, Qatar has emerged as a major financial backer of Fatah’s rival, Hamas, in the Gaza Strip.
Abbas also discussed political matters with the Emir of Kuwait, Nawaf Al‑Ahmad Al‑Jaber Al‑Sabah. Unlike the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Kuwait has so far rejected any normalization agreement with Israel. Instead, the Kuwaiti Emir affirmed his support for the Palestinian Arab population against what he labeled “brutal Israeli aggression.”
On Monday, Abbas hosted the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shokri at the Palestinian Authority presidential headquarters in Ramallah. The two leaders reportedly exchanged views on the recent political developments in the Palestinian-controlled territories.
Instead of mentioning the recent Hamas attack on the Fatah-affiliated Grand Mufti in Jerusalem, Abbas predictably condemned Israel and “extremist settlers” for what he called “attacks on al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in occupied Jerusalem.”
While officially expressing support for the PA, the Egyptian foreign minister stressed the importance of achieving Palestinian national unity.
Realizing his declining political legitimacy following the cancelled elections, Abbas claimed that Fatah was ready to embrace national dialogue.
“We are ready to continue dialogue to form a government of national accord that is committed to international legitimacy,” said Abbas.
During his conversation with the Egyptian foreign minister, Abbas also urged the international community to facilitate the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital.
However, even if Israel would withdraw completely to the 1967 lines, it is currently hard to see how a united Palestinian Arab state could be established amid the increased rivalry between Fatah and Hamas.
While Hamas is firmly in control in the Gaza Strip and challenging Fatah in the West Bank, Fatah is determined to preserve its power base in Ramallah and in the Arab West Bank towns and villages.