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Hamas More Attractive To Palestinians Than PLO

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will follow today's meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a visit not to Gaza but to the West Bank. There she'll talk with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. While Hamas has taken a militant stance toward Israel, Abbas and his party, Fatah, have taken a diplomatic approach, pressing for Palestinian statehood at the United Nations. A U.N. vote had been expected at the end of the month. But with all the attention now on Gaza come questions about whether Abbas holds any sway with the Palestinians.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Joining us now is Aaron David Miller who's vice president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars . He worked on Middle East policy at the State Department under both Democratic and Republican administrations for years. Welcome once again to the program.

AARON DAVID MILLER: A pleasure to be here.

SIEGEL: Hillary Clinton is going to Ramallah tomorrow, but you write for Foreign Policy magazine that Hamas is getting more attention, traction, legitimacy and support than the, quote, "good" Palestinian, Mahmoud Abbas. Why?

MILLER: I think in large part because Fatah's stock has so diminished because it hasn't been able to deliver. I mean, success is the world's most compelling ideology, and Abbas has not been able to deliver an end to the Israeli occupation. The Palestinian Authority is in crisis. If you combine that with the fact that Hamas offers to Palestinians under occupation a variety of psychological and even practical benefits - the release of 1,000 prisoners in return for Gilad Shalit and the whole act of resistance against the Israelis, which, for a depressed and demoralized people, offers a degree of hope.

I mean, I don't think Hamas can deliver what the Palestinians need, which is statehood. But clearly, in this dysfunctional national movement, one side's stock is rising, Hamas, and the other is clearly falling, Abbas.

SIEGEL: And Mahmoud Abbas and other leaders of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank see demonstrations in support of Hamas right in front of them.

MILLER: Exactly. I think the reality is that Hamas' stock has been strengthened by the emergence of Islamist governments in Turkey and in Egypt. A parade of Arab officials has gone to Gaza. No visit to Abbas. And in such a movement, which essentially today resembles the kind of Noah's Ark in which there are two of everything - two security services, two constitutions, two polities, two prime ministers, two visions of what constitutes Palestine. The centrists and the moderates - and Abbas is a good man. His stock has clearly fallen.

SIEGEL: Should we see Mahmoud Abbas' government in Ramallah as just another one of the old regimes, the sort that lost in the Arab Spring?

MILLER: I mean, I think there was concern about that fact, and it's certainly possible that you're going to have demonstrations. I think the idea of Palestinian statehood though is simply too compelling still. In a way, it's too big to fail. And if you can get a political process under way in which Abbas could actually engage with the Israelis - and there was some hope and promise of delivery - then you might see the circumstances turn and the tide change.

SIEGEL: Do you regard Fatah's recent loss of stature as something that really is reparable or perhaps part of an inevitable decline?

MILLER: Well, you know, the region as well as I, there are reversals of fortune...

SIEGEL: No, I don't, but go ahead.

MILLER: ...opened - maybe you don't, but I think you know that reversals - if nothing in America lasts more than 15 minutes, the Middle East has shown that countries don't have allies; they have interests. And those interests can shift.

SIEGEL: Aaron David Miller, thanks a lot for talking with us once again.

MILLER: A pleasure, Robert.

SIEGEL: Aaron Miller is vice president for New Initiatives and Distinguished Scholar in the Middle East program at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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