Cruel Middle East ironies abound. And here's a doozy for you.
Why is it that Hamas -- purveyor of terror, launcher of Iranian-supplied rockets, and source of "death to the Jews" tropes -- is getting more attention, traction, legitimacy and support than the "good" Palestinian, the reasonable and grandfatherly Mahmoud Abbas, who has foresworn violence in favor of negotiations? Since the crisis began, President Obama seems to have talked to every other Middle Eastern leader except Abbas.
The Israeli operation against Hamas may yet take a large bite out of the Palestinian Islamist organization in Gaza, but the "Hamas trumps Abbas" dynamic has been underway for some time now and is likely to continue. I'd offer four reasons why.
Abbas's party is in disarray. The Islamists' victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, its takeover of Gaza in 2007, Fatah's own sense of political drift, and the absence of a credible peace process created an opening for Hamas -- the religious manifestation of Palestinian nationalism. Had Yasir Arafat still been alive, Hamas would never have come as far as it has.
Arafat's death left a huge leadership vacuum in a political culture where persona, not institutions, figures prominently. Abbas had electoral legitimacy but he lacked the authority, street cred, and elan of the historical struggle. And in a Palestinian national movement without direction and strategy, it didn't take much to create an alternative to a tired, divided, corrupt, and ineffective Fatah.