RAMALLAH: The widely unpopular Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is facing growing anger on the streets of the occupied West Bank as Israel wages its war against Hamas in Gaza.
He is seen as out of touch with the increasing desperation of the Palestinian people and Israel’s furious response to the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas has only exacerbated their discontent.
After a rocket strike on a Gaza hospital this week caused fresh outrage, hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets in a rare demonstration shouting “Abbas step down!” before being dispersed by security forces.
Abbas has led the Palestinian Authority for 18 years but has only limited authority over the West Bank and none over Gaza where the authority was violently ousted by Hamas in 2007.
On the world stage, Abbas has clung to the unrealized promises of the 1993 Oslo Accords.
The PA was meant to be a first step toward an independent Palestinian state, but negotiations have been at a standstill for more than a decade.
Abbas has been powerless against the rapid expansion of Israeli settlements and military control in the West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem, both occupied since 1967, fragmenting what was meant to be a contiguous Palestinian territory.
Violence against Palestinian civilians by Israeli settlers and clashes between the Israeli army and Palestinian armed groups have increased.
Conditions have only worsened after the formation of Israel’s most far-right government in history in December, under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Abbas bet on the international community, believing that it would force Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories to give the Palestinians a state,” said Ubai Al-Aboudi, director of the Bisan Center for Research and Development, a think tank based in Ramallah.
“However, the international community has shown that it cares little about the blood shed by the Palestinians and their suffering, hence the popular anger,” Aboudi said.
Abbas has remained on the sidelines since the Oct. 7 Hamas assault, in the worst attack suffered by Israel since its independence in 1948.
Many Palestinians, regardless of their politics, have expressed support for Hamas on social media.
Abbas set off anger this week with a comment reported by the official Palestinian news agency that “the policies and actions of Hamas do not represent the Palestinian people.” The statement was withdrawn.
Even before the latest war, Abbas was deeply unpopular, while support for peaceful negotiations was waning.
Seventy-eight percent of Palestinians wanted Abbas to resign, according to a poll published in September by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.
Some 58 percent said they supported “armed struggle” to end the Israeli occupation, compared with 20 percent in favor of a negotiated settlement and 24 percent for “peaceful resistance.”
Abbas opponents feel “the Palestinian Authority is increasingly assimilated, either by inaction or by security cooperation, to Israel’s policy,” said Xavier Guignard, a political scientist specializing in the Palestinian territories.
There was a real feeling that “Abbas was unable to react to what was happening in Gaza,” said Guignard, of the Paris-based Noria Research.
Hugh Lovatt, an analyst for the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that “as the Palestinian public mood hardens further in support of armed resistance, the PA risks being swept away” if it continues to ignore public opinion.
Abbas would be further weakened, he said, as “the US and Israel push the PA to crack down harder on Hamas and other armed groups in the West Bank — which would further erode its public standing.”
Omar Khatib, who took part in a Ramallah demonstration on Friday in support of Gaza Palestinians, gave a withering assessment of the PA. “The resistance is confronting Israel in Gaza, and we are confronting the Authority here because it is just a tool in the hands of the occupation to repress us in the West Bank,” he said.