Palestinians to get $20 million in US aid, but leadership in disarray

Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP
US Middle East envoy George Mitchell arrived in the region this week to shore up the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and try to get the peace process back on track. But infighting among Palestinian leaders adds another wrinkle to an already difficult task.

Ask and ye shall receive – sort of. Yesterday, the United Nations appealed for $613 million in immediate humanitarian assistance to Gaza. Today in Jerusalem, President Obama’s Mideast envoy George Mitchell said that the US would chip in $20 million.

Now, that probably won Mr. Mitchell some good will – something he tends to be good at winning. (We wrote last week about his "positively biblical" patience that enabled him to broker peace in Northern Ireland. Read more here about this former senator, raised by an Irish janitor and Lebanese textile worker in Maine.)

Wanted: Palestinian leader backed by Palestinians, trusted by Israel
But Mitchell, who is underscoring Obama’s commitment to restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process during his tour of the region, has a far bigger problem on his plate: who will sit across from Israel in any future negotiations.

Israel’s preferred partner is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah party. But unfortunately for Israel, its three-week offensive in Gaza seems to have undermined Fatah’s – and consequently Mr. Abbas’s – standing with Palestinians, according to the Jerusalem Post.

"Abbas and [Prime Minister Salaam] Fayad are very nervous," the Fatah official said. "There is no doubt that they are the biggest losers of this war, because they have been discredited among their own people."

Hamas pushing to replace Fatah-dominated PLO
And Hamas knows it. Now that it's claimed victory in Gaza, the Islamist group is pushing to replace the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is recognized by the UN as the representative for the Palestinian people, Reuters reported today:

Several thousand Hamas supporters rallied in Gaza on Friday in support of the call to abolish the PLO, made two days ago by the group's exiled leader, Khaled Meshaal.
Meshaal advocates a new umbrella body to represent Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and in the diaspora.

Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, boiled it down to the central problem in a recent Monitor article:

“… you also need to have Israeli and Palestinian leaderships in place, people who can make a deal on behalf of their people, and that isn’t the case right now.”

Israel will hold elections next month (more about that here), resolving the first part of that problem. But it is as of now unclear how the struggle between Hamas and Fatah will play out, and to what extent Abbas will be able to deliver for Mitchell.

Here are some more recent Monitor articles (some of which were referenced above) if you’re looking to understand more:
Q&A with Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzook (Mr. Meshaal’s deputy)
With Obama, what change for Mideast?
Obama’s Mideast envoy George Mitchell brings patience, resolve
In pummeled Gaza, Hamas recoups

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