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Associated Press
Hamas militants attend the funeral of a Hamas member in Gaza City on Saturday. Hamas’ image is seen as growing and Fatah’s as weakening.

Hamas’ victory seen as dimming Fatah’s image

– Hamas’ latest battle against Israel sparked feverish Palestinian pride that spread beyond the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority-led West Bank. But it has also deepened a sense here that the authority’s nonviolent, diplomatic approach to winning a Palestinian state is increasingly futile.

It is a commonly held view in both territories that the Islamist militants of Hamas – which refuses to recognize Israel – defeated their enemy, and that they did it with weapons, not words.

“They put Israel in its place. They forced Israel to withdraw,” Amanda Izzat, a 23-year-old university student who was shopping in Ramallah on Saturday, said of Hamas.

The eight-day conflict also underscored the stark differences between Hamas and its rival Fatah, which leads the Palestinian Authority. In a region where Arab Spring uprisings pushed political Islam to the forefront, some analysts say that Fatah’s secular nationalism looks more anachronistic by the day and that Hamas’ sudden strength has fueled momentum for a more aggressive, even radical, posture in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Fatah member, dismissed Islamism as a fad. But she said she is increasingly worried that Palestinians will see armed resistance, which Fatah renounced in 1988, as the only mechanism that appears to win concessions from Israel.

“It would be easy to get the world’s attention by unleashing violence,” Ashrawi said. “But that’s not a tool we want to use. There’s so much tragic loss of life.”

Hamas’ rising profile has posed the most immediate challenge to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who played the role of bystander throughout the crisis. As Hamas’ leader-in-exile, Khaled Meshal, negotiated the cease-fire under the mediation of Cairo’s Islamist-led government, Abbas envoys traveled to Gaza, but he did not. Abbas has not been to the strip since 2006, when Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections. Hamas, which Israel and the United States deem a terrorist group, seized control of Gaza one year later.

The Gaza conflict “left Abbas politically naked,” said Mahdi Abdul Hadi, chairman of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs.

It also eclipsed the buildup to what Abbas and his supporters tout as his own form of resistance to Israel: A bid set to be submitted Thursday at the United Nations General Assembly to upgrade the Palestinians’ standing to nonmember state. The resolution, which the Palestinians could use to challenge Israeli actions at the International Criminal Court, is expected to be approved.

Last week, Abbas rebuffed the latest call by the United States to drop the bid. He has also ignored opposition from Israel, which says that only negotiations can lead to a Palestinian state.

Some Palestinian and Israeli commentators have said that Israel emboldened Hamas – perhaps intentionally – at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, which the United States funds and views as the true representative of the Palestinian people.

A senior Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter frankly, denied that assertion. But he said Israel has come to recognize that Hamas is the de facto power in Gaza, casting doubt on Abbas’ claim as leader of all Palestinians.

Hamas expressed support this past week for Abbas’ bid at the United Nations, but its members deride him as a lackey of Israel.

“Resistance has succeeded in forcing the Israelis to hide” in bomb shelters, supermarket employee Hassam al-Badouwi, 28, said at a pro-Hamas rally in Ramallah. “I advise (Abbas) to take a vacation.”

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