Abu Mazen: Beneath the Moderate Veneer - Part I

Abbas has been working hard to lend just that impression and he certainly seems to be succeeding. But precisely what does he "deserve"? Does this ostensible moderate truly seek the cessation of violence and genuine peace? Does he accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state?

Arlene Kushner,

Arlene Kushner
Arlene Kushner
Arutz 7
"If anyone deserves to be given a chance, this is the guy."

So declared Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, referring to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (a.k.a. Abu Mazen), in an address just last month.

Abbas has been working hard to lend just that impression and he certainly seems to be succeeding. But precisely what does he "deserve"? Does this ostensible moderate truly seek the cessation of violence and genuine peace? Does he accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state?

More than 11 years ago now, on September 13, 1993, Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the PLO, shook the hand of a reluctant Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as the Declaration of Principles was signed on the White House lawn. A culmination of the negotiations in Oslo, the Declaration called for putting an end to "decades of confrontation and conflict," and stated that the parties would "strive to live in peaceful coexistence."

Within 24 hours, Arafat had gone on Jordanian TV and explained his position (in Arabic) with remarkable candor:

"Since we cannot defeat Israel in war; we do this in stages. We take any and every territory that we can of Palestine, and establish sovereignty there, and we use it as a springboard to take more. When the time comes, we can get the Arab nations to join us for the final blow against Israel."

At the end of 1995, a formal pact was established between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Signed in the names of Yasser Arafat and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, it called on the PA to "cease all preventative security." That is, in flagrant violation of Oslo agreements, the PA was agreeing to look the other way as Hamas continued terrorist attacks, and in fact, viewed such terrorist acts ? from which it publicly disassociated itself ? as a means of pushing Israel harder in negotiations.

In the summer of 2002, well after Oslo had collapsed, Dennis Ross, who had been President Clinton's special envoy to the Middle East, addressed this approach when he wrote about Arafat's tactics in Foreign Affairs:

"Notwithstanding his commitment to renounce violence, he has never relinquished the terror card."

Now we see Mahmoud Abbas standing in Yasser Arafat's stead. Far more polished than Arafat ever was, certainly a good deal less abrasive, and likely considerably smarter, Abbas chooses to be seen as Arafat's antithesis ? a new, moderate leader for a new time. Arafat was so deeply detested in so many quarters that it's not hard for Abbas to project this persona successfully. Worn down by the need to cope with Arafat, people are ready to embrace someone new. The current euphoria, the expressed hope that we may be on the cusp of peace, would not be possible without a vision of Abbas as the man of the hour.

Abbas understands that Arafat's belligerent style had become counterproductive and that terror attacks were not working to further Palestinian interests. Thus, he is eager to project that appearance of moderation, and to bring to the area a period of "quietness." There is no question about this. But at the end of the day, he was Arafat's buddy ? someone who shared goals and values with him. At the end of the day, Abbas has no more intention of relinquishing that terror card than Arafat did.

Born in Tzfat (Safed) in 1935, he fled to Syria with his family in 1948. By the mid-1950s, he had landed in Kuwait, where he hooked up with Arafat and helped to found Fatah ? which, it should be noted, still advocates "liberation" of the entire land. As Arafat moved about over the years, Abbas went with him ? to Jordan (where he became involved with the PLO when Fatah gained ascendancy in that group), to Lebanon and to Tunis.

For many years, Abbas was Arafat's deputy, his protege and his constant companion.

He was party to the plan to take Israel in stages. A formal PLO resolution outlining this strategy, called the "Phased Plan", was adopted in 1974. (This is what Arafat was referring to on Jordanian TV after the Oslo signing.)

He was privy to the advice from North Vietnamese revolutionaries that the PLO should conceal its true intent and appear flexible. In fact, Fatah had the works of the North Vietnamese General Giap translated into Arabic.

He was cognizant of, if not deeply involved in, decisions to formally ally the PA with Hamas.

And, it must be added, he was the signatory on behalf of the PLO for the Declaration of Principles with Israel. While Arafat shook hands, it was Abbas who penned his name. Quite clearly, he was privy to Arafat's declaration a day later ? which is to say, privy to the lack of sincerity that accompanied the show on the White House lawn to which he had lent his name. He has been partner to it all.

[Part 1 of 2]




top