On Barack Obama’s first day in office as U.S. president in 2009, he called Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank to discuss the war being waged at the time in Gaza between Hamas and Israel. The call came just two years after a devastating Palestinian civil war in which Hamas—the Islamist group that the United States, Israel and the European Union all designate as a terrorist organization—had expelled Abbas’ Fatah-led Palestinian Authority from Gaza.
Back in 2009, in the midst of what the Israelis called Operation Cast Lead, Hamas was surging in popularity among Palestinians. For many in Ramallah, the phone call from the Oval Office was a welcome relief, “signaling to all concerned parties that the Palestinian people has one address and that’s President Abbas,” as one of Abbas’s advisers remarked.
Eight years later, Abbas arrives in Washington in a similarly precarious position with one goal in mind: to re-establish his primacy.