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West Bank Palestinians cheer on their Gaza counterparts

Palestinians in the West Bank have staged solidarity marches, praising Gaza's rocket strikes on Israel and calling for an end to the diplomacy track with Israel – an indirect blow to President Mahmoud Abbas.

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Not surprisingly, legislators from the West Bank allied with Hamas portrayed the demonstrations as support for their party. "In every street and every alleyway, Palestinians from all factions are coming out," says legislator Abduljaber Fuqahaa. "For them, the resistance is the only way."

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 But the demonstrations seem far from mushrooming. In Ramallah, there were no green banners signifying support for the Islamist militants, and most of the people in the square did not join the protest, although it was unclear whether that was more due to fear of a Palestinian Authority crack down against supporters of its rival, or broader unease toward the Islamic militants.

 "People in the West Bank are extremely demoralized," says Ashraf, an office clerk who watched the Ramallah demonstration. "The reason why they are demoralized is because the PA says no resistance."

As long as Abbas is president...

Just last month Abbas, the leader of the US-supported Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, spoke to Israelis directly in a local television interview, promising that there would be no new intifada, or uprising, as long as he was president. 

 Those comments and other mollifying remarks suggesting he'd give up the right of return for Palestinian refugees still ring in the ears of Palestinians. They stand in stark contrast to the repeated rocket attacks on Israeli cities coming out of Gaza, which have given them a sense of empowerment.  

Mahmoud Labadie, an official from the international relations branch of Mr. Abbas' Fatah party, remained diplomatic today when asked about Hamas's militant tactics, saying it was an understandable response from Gazans. Although Hamas could not hope to defeat Israel militarily, he said, maybe the fighting with Israel would boost support for the bid at the UN.

President Abbas has a better environment to go to the UN with," says Mr. Labadie. "He will get more sympathy." 

Weakening credibility

In the days before the outbreak of the fighting, Israeli government ministers had launched a public relations offensive against Mr. Abbas. Israel's finance minister threatened to stop the flow of tax money that Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority – a move that could seriously destabilize Mr. Abbas' government, which is already struggling financially – and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called Abbas's UN initiative "diplomatic terror" and released a position paper suggesting that he be toppled.

Given Abbas's weakening credibility among his constituents, Alon Liel, a dovish former Israeli diplomat, says that the government should consider softening their approach, and even give allow him a diplomatic victory at the UN.

"Abu Mazen gave up on the armed struggle, he did a diplomatic struggle," says Mr. Liel, using Mr. Abbas's nom de guerre. "If Abu Mazen gets this recognition by diplomatic means, he will balance the damage caused to him by this war.... I think it’s very important to let Abu Mazen have his diplomatic win, rather than let Hamas have its military win."

Staff writer Christa Case Bryant contributed reporting from Jerusalem. 

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