x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip voices frustration as Abbas makes 'risky' bid for statehood

Militant group does not back move that recognises Israel but has not openly condemned it.

Palestinian schoolchildren stand with a woman in front of a painting of the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, in central Gaza yesterday. Mahmud Hams /AFP
Palestinian schoolchildren stand with a woman in front of a painting of the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, in central Gaza yesterday. Mahmud Hams /AFP

GAZA CITY // In the Palestinians' high-profile bid to seek statehood at the United Nations, half the future nation they envisioned has been all but forgotten.

Residents of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip are watching frustrated from the sidelines as the West Bank-based leadership pushes for the long-held dream.

The move for UN recognition has created a quandary for the Islamic militant Hamas, which violently overran Gaza three years ago and set up a rival government there.

They cannot publicly oppose the idea of statehood but they are wary of giving a boost to their West Bank rival, internationally backed by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.

They also do not want to appear to recognise Israel, as the move does by calling for a state only on territories captured in 1967.

Palestinian leaders in the West Bank "forget the missing part, which is Gaza", said Taher Khalil, a 45-year-old retired civil servant. "We only know about this move from TV - we don't know what is right and what is wrong.

"No one came out and told us what the future will look like after we submit the bid at the UN."

Abbas's Palestinian Authority is seeking recognition of an independent state on territories that Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war, including the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza.

Israel withdrew soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but still controls its crossings, blockades its coast and occupies the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Mr Abbas's government has wielded no authority in Gaza, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, since Hamas pushed out Abbas loyalists in 2007 and set up an Islamic-orientated mini-state complete with government ministries, a military force and a postal service.

Hamas, allied with Iran and openly committed to Israel's destruction, does not support the UN move but has not openly condemned it.

Instead, officials have chided Mr Abbas - known by his nickname Abu Mazen - for going it alone.

"Abu Mazen's decision to go to the UN without consulting with Palestinian factions about the negative and positive effect of such a move and with only partial Arab, Islamic and international support is something very risky," said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. "We are talking about issues related to the fate of the Palestinian people."

Further complicating matters, the last time Palestinians held parliamentary elections, in 2006, Hamas won, so the group claims it is the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, not the Palestinian Authority.

In Gaza, the UN bid has become the talk of the town - but opinions vary. Awny Ouda, 23, a student, said he would not be satisfied with a state based on the lines Israel held before the 1967 war.

"Abbas wants to give the remains of our lands and rights on a silver tray to the occupation," he said.

Rawan Hassan, a 42-year-old teacher, called the bid a "cosmetic step". But Zuhair Hamdan, 25, a waiter, said the Palestinians had nothing to lose.

"The world has been busy finding out what's happening and this is something rare when you see the name of Palestine on TV without a link to violence and blood," he said.

* Associated Press