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Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas' role in the Hamas-Israel conflict

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Israel has intensified its bombing campaign and ground maneuvers in Gaza. On Friday night, a communications blackout and heavy artillery bombardment added to growing concerns by aid groups about the humanitarian crisis there. Israel's stated goal of removing the militant group Hamas from power in Gaza raises questions about the future of Palestinian leadership. Mahmoud Abbas is the president of the Palestinian Authority, the governing body that exercises partial control over the West Bank. Abbas is a member of the Fatah party, a group that has had ongoing conflict with Hamas.

And to talk more about all of this, we are joined by Grant Rumley. He's the co-author of "The Last Palestinian: The Rise And Reign Of Mahmoud Abbas," and he joins us now. Thanks for talking with us, Grant.

GRANT RUMLEY: Thanks for having me.

DETROW: So help us understand the current political relationship between Hamas and Fatah and why it matters here.

RUMLEY: Well, they are effectively split and split because of a civil war that they fought in 2007, when Abbas and Yasser Arafat, the leader of the PLO and Fatah in the '90s, decided to enter into negotiations with Israel under the Oslo Accords and established the Palestinian Authority. There was one major Palestinian entity that was against that, and it was Hamas, which remained pledged to the eradication of the State of Israel. And so that really came to a head in 2006, when they had elections, and then in 2007, when attempts to sort of govern together failed. And they had a brief but bloody civil war in which Hamas expelled Fatah and the Palestinian Authority from the Gaza Strip.

DETROW: So the relationship was pretty severed at that point. So has this recent conflict affected it at all, or was it so bad to begin with that, really, there hasn't been a change here?

RUMLEY: It's always been bad. It's the result of a fundamental divergence of views. And so it really puts Abbas and the Palestinian Authority in Fatah in sort of this tough position where they want to try to find some type of middle ground when situations like this happened, but ultimately, they failed to do so.

DETROW: So how would you describe Abbas's current position of power?

RUMLEY: I think this crisis reveals just how weak Abbas and the Palestinian Authority has become. You know, the closest he's gotten to criticizing Hamas after their attacks on Israel was in a phone call with Venezuela's leader, Maduro, where he pointedly said that the PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians, and what Hamas is doing doesn't speak for the Palestinians. But, you know, the backlash was so severe and immediate at home that he had to walk it back.

DETROW: Do you have a sense right now who might be the next logical leader for the Palestinian Authority? Abbas is 87 years old at this point.

RUMLEY: This is sort of one of the big critiques of Abbas and his tenure as president, is that there - you can't easily identify a next generation of leaders underneath him. And in fact, any time someone would emerge who may, you know, sort of have some charisma or gravitas or potential, you know, he would very quickly isolate them and sort of push them to the sides, push them to the margins. And so there is no real clear successor here, and that's one of the major issues facing the Palestinians, the Israelis, other countries in the region, the U.S. and the international community.

DETROW: What are your biggest questions at this tense moment where we see the conflict escalating? We see more and more of it playing out, not just in Gaza, but the West Bank as well. What are you going to be looking at over the coming weeks?

RUMLEY: The thing that I'm probably most worried about, and what I'd be watching most closely is, you know, what is the state of the Palestinian security forces and the security coordination with Israel? For all the criticisms you can throw at Abbas - and there are plenty - he has been committed to security and stability in the West Bank and security coordination with Israel. You know, he came to power being the guy within the Palestinian leadership who was against violence and terror. He was campaigning against the Second Intifada and warning the other leaders that this is what would set the movement back. And so this war is to drag on, and if tensions are to rise in the West Bank, you know, that's sort of an issue that could then exacerbate tensions and, unfortunately, could open up even more tragic events. And so that's probably the issue that I'm most closely concerned about.

DETROW: Now, that's Grant Rumley, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Thank you so much.

RUMLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emma Klein
Adam Raney
Sami Yenigun is the Executive Producer of NPR's All Things Considered and the Consider This podcast. Yenigun works with hosts, editors, and producers to plan and execute the editorial vision of NPR's flagship afternoon newsmagazine and evening podcast. He comes to this role after serving as a Supervising Editor on All Things Considered, where he helped launch Consider This and oversaw the growth of the newsmagazine on new platforms.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.