ISR-PAL-aftermathHEBRON, West Bank - In the aftermath of an 11-day war with Israel and last month's decision by President Mahmoud Abbas to postpone their elections, Palestinians are divided about what's next – and how to get it.

Some want a clean slate – to elevate a new generation of political leaders who can chart a surer path toward statehood and security. They want jobs, safety, peace and new leaders who can bring those to Palestine.
Others who were lukewarm about Hamas say now they are the only ones fighting for their rights. They want jobs and security but they also want dignity. 
In fact, analysts and those on the ground say the conflict only served to shore up support for the organization, which has been classified as "terrorist" by the US and others. Renewed support for the group makes finding a resolution to the larger conflict including a two-state solution almost impossible, say analysts. In the short term, they add, prosperity and peace are off the table.
"During March and April, many polling institutions in Gaza and the West Bank who run public opinion polls were finding that Hamas' popularity in Gaza was plunging as a result of poverty, unemployment, lack of basic services, and the continued closure by Israel and Egypt," said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political science professor at Gaza's Al-Azhar University. "Now we are witnessing a dramatic change that puts Hamas back on track, and it's more popular than ever in Gaza, the West Bank, and even among Palestinians inside Israel."
This month's war, the fourth between Israel and Hamas since the Islamic militant group's 2007 seizure of Gaza from forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority, followed an uptick in disputes over Jerusalem.
In April, Human Rights Watch cited Israel's systematic denial of building permits, mass residency revocations of Jerusalem Arabs, and large-scale land confiscations in the formerly Jordanian ruled parts of the West Bank as reasons for charging the Jewish state of "crossing the threshold "into "crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution."
Then came forcible entry on May 9 of Israeli police at the capital's Al-Aqsa mosque during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as well as ongoing efforts to squeeze 500 Palestinian residents out of their homes in the historically Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Hamas followed by making good on its vow to "Protect Al -Aqsa mosque" and "Save Sheikh Jarrah" by launching more than 4,000 projectiles at Israeli cities.
Palestinian officials say Israeli airstrikes killed at least 248 people, injured 2,000 more and left nearly 2,000 homes unhabitable in Gaza. The Hamas-run local health agency says 66 of the dead were children.
Hamas rocket fire killed at least 12 people in Israel, and intercommunal rage spread to cities inside the country's internationally recognized borders with unprecedented clashes between Arab and Jewish civilians.
Despite the devastation in Gaza, mass victory demonstrations in the streets of Ramallah and Gaza City point to a surge of support for Hamas – the Islamist militant group that's been designated a terror organization by both Israel and the United States.
Like all Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank under 34, Samia Swirky has never taken part in national elections, which were last held in 2006. But she would vote for Hamas if she could, she says.
"We do not like wars, killing, and devastation but what happened in Jerusalem, especially in Sheikh Jarrah, is reason enough to protect the people from forced expulsion," said Swirky, a 26-year-old computer engineer in Gaza City, who spent much of the past week, cowering from bombs with her two children. "Armed resistance is the sole and best way to achieve our dreams."
"After the canceling of the elections, this war, and what is happening in Jerusalem, we are looking to replace Abbas with a new president who believes that armed resistance is the only way for an independent Palestinian state," she added. "Peace is not an option as the Israelis want all our lands.
The 85-year-old president Mahmoud Abbas has led both the Fatah nationalist political party and the Palestinian Authority since 2005 when he succeeded the movement's founder Yassir Arafat.
Abbas said he was forced to postpone the elections because he could not get Israeli approval to hold the vote in the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. His authority has struggled for credibility as the Israeli settler population in his nominally held territories grew to 500,000. More than 200,000 additional Jewish Israelis live in east Jerusalem, which is also home to more than 300,000 Palestinians.
Palestinians felt increasingly sidelined after former president Donald Trump moved to recognize full Israeli sovereignty over the city by moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018.
And Jerusalem has always been at the forefront of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Our people are excited about elections. There is enthusiasm... But what about Jerusalem? Where is Jerusalem?" asked Abbas, who promised to reschedule voting when "the participation of our people in the city is guaranteed."
Mr. Abusada thinks Abbas may have committed a strategic blunder by waiting. And he says
Hamas succeeded in insulting Israel on the regional stage, with its army unable to claim significant military achievements and its embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu facing criticism for failing to eliminate critical figures in the Hamas leadership or completely destroying the organization's network of defensive tunnels, both primary objectives of the campaign.
During the latest operation, the Israel Defense Forces tried at least twice to kill the head of Hamas' military wing, Muhammad Deif but both times, he escaped unscathed.
"This whole war erupted because the Palestinians in East Jerusalem called for rescue, and they called for Hamas to respond," Abusada said. "They didn't go to President Abbas in Ramallah for assistance. They pleaded for help from Hamas in Gaza, and now we have unprecedented attention to our issues after 27 years of failed negotiations with Israel."
Yet a freshly emboldened Hamas dims the hopes of moderate Palestinians and international diplomats for a two-state solution.
While the PLO recognized Israel in the 1992 Oslo accords signed by President Bill Clinton, Yitzhak Rabin, and Yasir Arafat, by way of contrast, the 2017 Hamas charter advocates the liberation of all of Palestine. It is ready to create a state based on 1967 borders as long as it's not required to recognize Israel.
"Hamas shifted the light from Jerusalem to Gaza," said Rami Badawi, a 29-year-old psychology graduate from Hebron University in the West Bank. "After the war ends, destruction is the only thing that we can see in Gaza while the Israelis will continue their plans and evict the people of Al-Sheikh Jarrah."
Mr. Badawi, who served six months in an Israeli prison on security charges, still believes democracy and diplomacy are the best way to secure statehood for the Palestinians.
"War has no benefits, and the international community must stop both Israel and Hamas – there must be a solution that stops Israel from taking more lands and houses," Badawi added. "Palestinians must have elections as soon as possible. We should have the right to choose new faces and new policies."
Delal Iriqat, a diplomacy and conflict resolution professor at the Arab American University Palestine, says the challenge for Palestinians is to politically leverage their new visibility after four years of the Trump administration's embrace of Netanyahu and the bolstering of Israel's creeping annexation.
"The Trump administration's recognition of [Israeli sovereignty in] Jerusalem gave a green light for what's happening today," said Iriqat. "What Israel is doing now is totally isolating the West Bank, and Netanyahu is leaving no option but a one-state reality."
The escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis now has the attention of the Biden administration. Iriqat met US envoy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hady Amr, during his fact-finding mission in the days leading up to the ceasefire.
"The [Biden] administration is working toward bringing the two parties together and trying to start negotiations," Iriqat said. "But when you talk to people in Palestine, they will tell you, no matter if we agree with Hamas or not, it's helped (them) get back (their) dignity and with that, the chance to pursue human rights and statehood for our people," Iriqat said.
Meanwhile, Iriqat doubts if the Palestinians could hold elections today even if President Abbas gave the go-ahead: "Should the Palestinian leadership agree to hold elections now, there'd be pressure to delay by the international community, which has seen the popularity of Hamas rise significantly after this war."

Photo: May 15, 2021 - Around 150,000 people attend the "March for Palestine" protest in front of the Israeli Embassy in London, United Kingdom. 
Credit: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona/ Unsplash (05/16/21)

Story/photo published date: 05/25/21

A version of this story was published in the Washington Times.