Caught in a three-way stand-off with a jailed resistance fighter and an exiled chief torturer, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas dived for cover.
The three represent the fractured sides of a Palestinian national liberation movement long ago co-opted by the Israeli occupation.
They’d been set to face off in Palestinian elections—the first in nearly 15 years—when Abbas announced the vote must be postponed.
His official explanation was that Israel refused to guarantee it would allow Palestinians in East Jerusalem to vote.
Yet Abbas knew this when he called the elections—and earlier this year had denied he planned on postponing or cancelling them.
His real reason for halting the vote is almost certainly to do with the crisis in his own party, Fatah.
Support for a breakaway faction backed by jailed resistance hero Marwan Barghouti threatened him.
A Palestinian opinion poll showed overwhelmingly that most people thought Fatah should choose Barghouti rather than Abbas in presidential elections set for June.
And if Barghouti stood independently he would beat Abbas and the candidate of resistance group Hamas.
That reflects anger among Palestinians at Fatah’s failure to challenge Israel’s occupation.
The poll also shows that many Palestinians think the Palestinian Authority’s negotiations with Israel have failed, and reject the two-state solution.
Fatah is the leading party in the Palestine Liberation Organisation that once waged armed resistance against Israel.
Yet since the 1993 Oslo Accords—a supposed peace deal—it has sought negotiations with Israel in return for the promise of a Palestinian state.
This tied it into helping to contain and police Palestinian resistance, while Israel extended its control over occupied Palestinian land.
The Palestinian Authority last held elections in 2006. Hamas, which promised to keep fighting the occupation, beat Fatah.
Fatah—backed by Israel and the US—rejected the results and attempted a coup against Hamas. Hamas was left in control of the Gaza Strip—under siege by Israel.
More than a decade of siege pushed Hamas towards deals with rulers of states such as Egypt, which “mediates” between it and Israel.
Hamas has also shown signs of preparing to compromise with Israel.
That’s why Abbas hoped the elections would deliver a coalition or deal with Hamas and the return of negotiations.
Joe Biden’s election as US president was a turning point.
Former president Donald Trump threw out the pretence of aiming for any kind of Palestinian state.
Abbas was pushed into ending cooperation and talks with Israel.
Now Abbas hopes Biden’s election can restart the sham peace process that he relies on.
But Israel and some US allies in the Middle East prefer his exiled rival, multimillionaire Mohamed Dahlan.
Dahlan was in charge of the failed coup attempt against Hamas, and oversaw the torture of Hamas members.
His ruthless reputation and close relationships with Arab rulers make him their preferred choice to lead the Palestinian Authority.
But it also means his rival list of candidates to challenge Abbas’s has little support among Palestinians.
The real challenge to all of them came from a third Fatah list. It’s led by the nephew of Yasser Arafat, hailed as a hero among many Palestinians. And it’s backed by Barghouti.
Instead of talks and negotiations, Barghouti calls for ending cooperation with Israel and a return to resistance.
Support for that position is the real challenge to Abbas, Dahlan, Israel and the US.