ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Mahmoud Abbas - Moderate or Arafat Lackey? 1.1.05

Mahmoud Abbas - Moderate or Arafat Lackey?

1 January 2005

By Yisrael Ne'eman

Many people believe Yasser Arafat died almost two months ago. Physically he is, but the question remains as to whether his ideas live on. He may not have accomplished the destruction of Israel in his lifetime, but the jury is still out as to whether he is a success or failure. Should the next generation of Palestinian leadership continue his same uncompromising line of demanding full refugee return, full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders (including from the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem) and full Israeli responsibility for the entire conflict, Arafat will continue to be in the game. A man is not defeated until his ideals and policies lose all relevancy.

Too many commentators see the disappearance of Arafat posters and wall graffiti in the West Bank and Gaza as a sign of change. Not being democratic, much of the Arab world identifies politics with specific personalities and Arafat is a case in point.

Front runner in the January 9th election for chairman (or president if you like) of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is said to be a moderate. Although he has a doctorate in Holocaust denial (which he now plays down), he is seen as a pragmatist, especially in lieu of his opposition in 2000 to Arafat's planned campaign of violence against Israel. Furthermore as Palestinian PM in the summer of 2003 he met Israeli PM Ariel Sharon in Aqaba in an attempt to work out a cease-fire as a prerequisite to a Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation. Terror attacks and Chairman Arafat brought about his downfall.

Although considered a moderate, Abbas has run a belligerent anti-Israel campaign, making the same Arafatist demands so well known to Israel. One will only know if this is electioneering posturing or a true change in position. It is clear that openly stated moderation would be detrimental to his campaign. On Thursday Abbas was greeted personally by Zakhariah Zebaide, the Al Aksa Brigades strongman in Jenin, who took him on a tour of his city and announced his support. Zebaide, who holds the weapons and guerilla/terror infrastructure in Jenin, continues to made it clear he will accept no cease-fire with Israel - yet he gives his full backing to Abbas.

Contradictions abound and none is more stark than the Zebaide-Abbas connection. Abbas is seen as a future negotiating partner with Israel while Zebaide is on Israel's most wanted list for terror activities. Many believe Abbas is the same moderate he was when he was PM a year and a half ago. If one assumes he is not, then a sharp rise in violence can be expected immediately after the elections.

On the other hand, figuring that he is truly a pragmatist seeking to end the conflict, he will need to line up Palestinian fire power behind him and put down any radical attempts at an overthrow or to increase the violence against Israel. The unanswerable question is if he will have the loyalty of the armed leadership, because if not, then at best he will be a straw chairman (president).

Either Yasser Arafat owns the street and will posthumously force himself on Abbas or the latter will prove to be his own man. Unfortunately the possibility that Arafat is alive and well and haunting Ramallah is all too real.