Monday, January 10, 2005

Abu Who?

Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, has been declared the victor in the recent Palestinian elections, reportedly garnering 62.3% of the vote. Although a margin of victory like that would spell a mandate for any U.S. president-elect, one must take into account the fact that Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas, boycotted the elections, despite the best efforts of Richard Gere.

Most recent writing about Abbas have examined his recent actions in an attempt to divine his true political nature. Although he has a long history of trying to work for peace with Israel, his statements both past and present have cast some doubt on his intentions. As Andrew Apostolou mentions in the National Review Online, "Abbas called the second intifada (uprising) against Israel a mistake on December 15, 2004. By January 1, 2005, however, he was willing to promise to protect Islamist terrorists such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad from Israeli attacks." Charles Krauthammer's recent piece in the Washington Post Op-Ed page, "Arafat's Heir," took an especially pessimistic tone, declaring, "In Abbas's first moment of real leadership, his long-anticipated emergence from the shadow of Arafat, he chooses to literally hoist the flag of the terrorist al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. ...Can Abbas turn into a Sadat, who also emerged from the shadow of a charismatic leader, reversed policy and made peace with Israel? I'll believe it when I see it. And hear it. " Apostolou and Krauthammer decidedly do not share President Bush's eagerness to work with Abbas, which Bush demonstrated via a lengthy phone conversation soon after Abbas was declared the victor.

I must disagree with Krauthammer and Apostolou in this matter. Both of their arguments seem to focus solely on Abbas's campaign efforts in the past month to the exclusion of decades of work with Israel towards peace. Krauthammer contrasts Abbas's conflicting statements with those of Arafat, but does not mention the peace plan Abbas authored with Yossi Belin in 1995 or the "principles of peace" concerning a two-state solution that resulted from negotiations Abbas led with Israeli General Matityahu Peled in 1977. In fact, I think his reputation as a PLO dove perfectly explains his "numerous radical statements." An outspoken moderate committed to making peace with Israel and clamping down on terror could not survive as a Palestinian leader. If Abbas acted in such a way as to satisfy conservative curmudgeons like Krauthammer, he would probably be denounced as a tool of the Israeli government and quickly assassinated. As is, it will be hard enough for Abbas to operate in any moderate fashion, as he no longer will have the behind-the-scenes role of the Arafat era. He also does not carry the same respect among the general Palestinian populace that Arafat did, further complicating his ability to act.

Abbas will not begin his term with a celebration of the state of Israel, to be sure, but to then make the argument that he is nothing more than a "secret lover" of Arafat is to be ignorant of history. At the very least, at the beginning of his presidency, Abbas will have to concern himself just as much with garnering popular support as with negotiating with Israel. His success, along with Israel's, depends on it.


At 1:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best part of the Richard Gere article - when asked about the ad, a Palestinian responded:
"We don't need the Americans' intervention. We know who to elect. Not like them -- they elected a moron."


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