With Israel’s Gaza campaign against Hamas and the Israeli election in the past, Israel must now contend with its next challenge – Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.

Although Mr. Abbas has been broadly touted as a “moderate” peace partner for Israel who can lead Fatah to the establishment of a Palestinian state, he has used the last few months to engage in an international campaign to delegitimize and weaken Israel – especially in the past few weeks.

His actions have focused overtly on two separate issues motivated by different, if overlapping, concerns:

In recent weeks, as a result of the Israeli military action in Gaza, the international focus has been on Hamas and not on the PA in the West Bank. Mr. Abbas has shown alarm at the possibility of a softening of international sanctions against Hamas and the rival faction’s involvement in rebuilding of Gaza. Both of these measures would bring Hamas increasing international legitimacy and weaken Fatah’s position as “the” legitimate Palestinian authority.

Mr. Abbas has thus sought to keep his faction, Fatah, center-stage in public awareness and show the PA acts decisively and with influence on behalf of the people of Gaza.

On January 27, after a meeting in the Mukata, his headquarters in Ramallah, Mr. Abbas held a press conference, during which he said:

“Israel does not want peace, otherwise it would not have done this. We need to understand this and tell it to those coming from Europe and America… We will do all we can to prove Israel committed crimes [according to Geneva Conventions] that would make your skin crawl… We appealed to international war crimes courts and called for setting up a query to investigate these war crimes. We’ll do our best to prove that Israel committed awful and disgusting crimes.”

Sources at the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center (JMCC) have confirmed representatives of the Palestinian Authority have approached the International Court of Justice with an eye toward charging Israel with war crimes. Formalities, which require submission of an application, are being pursued.

On February 4, during an address to the European Parliament, Mr. Abbas called on for an investigation against Israel for “war crimes” committed during the Gaza operation:

“We must do our utmost to ensure Israel is compelled to take responsibility for the horrific crimes… There are crimes and people who committed those crimes have to be held responsible so that these crimes cannot be repeated.”

According to a Ramallah-based journalist, the leaders of the Palestinian Authority recognize that the Annapolis plan for peace is dead – that its negotiations are stalemated and there is no way to advance them. Other means of advancing its agenda and pushing Israel to make concessions are now being sought.

A report in Tuesday’s edition of Ha’aretz details Mr. Abbas’ approach. His tactics have largely focused on diplomatic isolation of a right-wing government, should it be established, led by Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Abbas has been trying to convince the international community that such an Israeli government must face conditions similar to those faced by the Hamas government,” the newspaper said. “…The Palestinian Authority prepared a plan for ‘diplomatic resistance’ to Israel. The purpose of the plan is to offer an alternative to the ‘military resistance’ of Hamas and preserve Fatah as a relevant force, even in the absence of a peace process.

“Abbas met last week with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and [shared]… his deep concerns about the establishment in Israel of a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu. Abbas stressed that such a development means a deathblow to the peace process.

“…During all his meetings, Abbas compared a right-wing government in Israel to the Palestinian unity government of Fatah and Hamas, which followed the Mecca Accords in 2007. ‘You refused to fully cooperate with such a government because Hamas did not meet the Quartet’s conditions on ending terrorism and recognizing Israel,’ Abbas told the European leaders. ‘You will have to adopt a similar stance toward an Israeli government that will oppose the creation of a Palestinian state and genuine negotiations over the core issues of a permanent settlement,’ he added.”

Mr. Abbas said should a right-wing government come to power in Israel, it should receive the same sort of sanctions that have been imposed on the Hamas government or apartheid-era South Africa.

The bottom line: As the new Israeli government prepares for new negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, it may now face an unexpected hard-line leader in the personage of Mahmoud Abbas.

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David Bedein is an MSW community organizer and an investigative journalist.   In 1987, Bedein established the Israel Resource News Agency at Beit Agron to accompany foreign journalists in their coverage of Israel, to balance the media lobbies established by the PLO and their allies.   Mr. Bedein has reported for news outlets such as CNN Radio, Makor Rishon, Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, BBC and The Jerusalem Post, For four years, Mr. Bedein acted as the Middle East correspondent for The Philadelphia Bulletin, writing 1,062 articles until the newspaper ceased operation in 2010. Bedein has covered breaking Middle East negotiations in Oslo, Ottawa, Shepherdstown, The Wye Plantation, Annapolis, Geneva, Nicosia, Washington, D.C., London, Bonn, and Vienna. Bedein has overseen investigative studies of the Palestinian Authority, the Expulsion Process from Gush Katif and Samaria, The Peres Center for Peace, Peace Now, The International Center for Economic Cooperation of Yossi Beilin, the ISM, Adalah, and the New Israel Fund.   Since 2005, Bedein has also served as Director of the Center for Near East Policy Research.   A focus of the center's investigations is The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In that context, Bedein authored Roadblock to Peace: How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict - UNRWA Policies Reconsidered, which caps Bedein's 28 years of investigations of UNRWA. The Center for Near East Policy Research has been instrumental in reaching elected officials, decision makers and journalists, commissioning studies, reports, news stories and films. In 2009, the center began decided to produce short movies, in addition to monographs, to film every aspect of UNRWA education in a clear and cogent fashion.   The center has so far produced seven short documentary pieces n UNRWA which have received international acclaim and recognition, showing how which UNRWA promotes anti-Semitism and incitement to violence in their education'   In sum, Bedein has pioneered The UNRWA Reform Initiative, a strategy which calls for donor nations to insist on reasonable reforms of UNRWA. Bedein and his team of experts provide timely briefings to members to legislative bodies world wide, bringing the results of his investigations to donor nations, while demanding reforms based on transparency, refugee resettlement and the demand that terrorists be removed from the UNRWA schools and UNRWA payroll.   Bedein's work can be found at: www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com and www.cfnepr.com. A new site,unrwa-monitor.com, will be launched very soon.