Grim signs of an approaching showdown have emerged from within the Palestinian territories over the past several days. The trip wire? An errant shell or rocket (BBC) killed a Palestinian family on a Gaza beach (Haaretz). Despite Israel's protest that the shelling may have been a Palestinian rocket gone awry (Ynet), anger boiled over in Gaza (al-Jazeera) and Hamas announced an end to the cease-fire (Telegraph) it had been observing since taking office in January. Israel, in turn, responded with a warning that Hamas-sponsored violence could result in the targeting of the Palestinian prime minister (ISN). Further aggravating the situation Tuesday are reports of an Israeli effort to hit Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza which killed at least nine, including more civilians (BBC).
All this cast a new light on the political gambit of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, who is threatening to call a referendum on the Hamas government's unwillingness to negotiate with Israel. Talks between Abbas' once-dominant Fatah faction and Hamas have failed so far to settle the issue, though Hamas pledged to prevent such a vote (CSMonitor). Outside the talks, however, factional violence reigns, with Monday night bringing an assault by Fatah gunmen (JPost) on the Hamas government's offices in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
Furthermore, a crushing international economic embargo of the Hamas government continues, causing chaos for the PA's finances and "radicalizing even those who were not radicalized before," CFR Senior Fellow Judith Kipper told Bernard Gwertzman in an interview. "I think the United States also made a big mistake in being so precipitous in running around and forcing everybody to cut off funds." AlertNet offers this timeline of Hamas' rocky tenure.
Still, Abbas' referendum drive appears to be more than bluster. Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington, credits Abbas with a certain tactical genius (JPost) that puts both Hamas and Israel on the defensive. Dar Al-Hayat commentator Abdel Wahab Badrakhan sees the effort as flawed, if only because the document it is based on—the so-called "prisoners' letter"—is being manipulated to justify Abbas' effort. Hamas says inmates loyal to it already have disavowed the referendum.
MEMRI, a Middle East think tank, published a translation of the Abbas speech first proposing the referendum. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy provides this look at Palestinian efforts at national unity. Meanwhile, with Hamas threatening new suicide bombings and Israel girding to respond, CFR offers this Backgrounder on targeted killings, and in SAIS Review, Ward Thomas of Holy Cross looks at "The New Age of Assassination" (PDF).